Spotlight: Lisa in Australia-Torres Straits

Traditional foods in various places throughout the world are influenced greatly by the availability of certain ingredients.  In the U.S. beef is readily available and so meatloaf, sloppy joes, hamburgers and many other beef dishes are considered common American meals. And whereas to Americans beef is common, to people from India, eating beef would be eating a sacred animal. Each culture has its own rules regarding foods.

I recently spent time in the Torres Strait – an island area north of mainland Australia and south of Papua New Guinea. There, I saw many very different types of traditional foods. Some of these are considered immoral eating by the western world and some are considered delicacies highly sought after. But, to the local Torres Strait Islanders – the Kaurareg people – these foods have simply been a way of their sea-faring life for over 2500 years.


Some staples include sea turtle and dugong (sea cow), as well as a very colorful crayfish (lobster) and mud crabs.

While fishing restrictions are in place for foreigners, Australian mainlanders, and other Torres Strait residents, the Australian government has granted the Kaurareg people an exception. They have survived off these foods for thousands of years, so, despite protection of sea turtles and dugongs, the Kaurareg are allowed to continue their ancient way of life into the 21st century.


This causes strife amongst environmental groups wanting fishing of sea turtles and dugong to be completely prohibited. The Torres Strait Islanders feel they are not over-fishing these protected species, and with extremely limited income, sea turtles and dugong provide much needed dietary protein.

So whatever your belief, when traveling to other places, keep an open mind regarding the food choices of the locals. There is nothing saying your way or their way is better. Each society has developed its food choices based on cultural rules (i.e. no pork in Jewish culture) that serve it well. As you begin to understand the reasoning, whether or not you agree with it, you will inherently have a better understand of the people and place you have come to visit.


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