Food fests: Currency for cross-cultural creativity?

By Dr. Samuel Ogbeibu

Many argue that food fests – basically any excuse to congregate and have a feast – is a Malaysian cultural thing. Malaysians undoubtedly love their food and socialising. I, however, view food fests as opportunities to cultivate short-term, intermediate and long-term cross-cultural creativity.

At least this is what I call it – cross-cultural creativity – which subjectively refers to the cross-fertilisation (inspiration, generation, development, re-evaluation and reinforcement) of creative ideas by individuals of distinct races and cultures.

After living in the lovely city of Miri for some time, I have observed that new arrivals to the city really enjoy the grandeur and experience of local food fests where crowds would attend and depart in excitement and having some sense of increased camaraderie and benevolence towards each other.

One does not have to wait for grand occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or weddings to experience the allure of a food fest. You would often find a wide array of delicious delicacies awaiting you at any sizeable gathering of people, sometimes held for no particular reason other than to enjoy good food and each other’s company.

At times like these, in conversations, the titillating aroma of food can provoke rhetorical and challenging questions. Progressively, one’s sense of imagination would begin to intensify and produce thoughts covering diverse subjects and issues. It starts to get really interesting when individuals of different backgrounds subtly or spiritedly bounce ideas off each other, and in the process, wholeheartedly embrace their cultural diversity.

Such interaction and warmth will spark the exchange of different opinions, which will gravitate into ideas, and then more questions, challenging the mind and causing the debate to intensify – all the time fuelled by the intriguing experience of the food fest. Questions driven by strong curiosity tend to have their way of fuelling just the right dose of passion needed to incite a creative idea.

A creative idea is the ‘discovery of value-adding insights by which an employee relates clever ways of facilitating creativity in any given initiative, through a mix of cognitive processes (emotions, intuitions, experiences and/or memories) to produce creative results.’1

As creative ideas are exchanged, a ‘process creativity’ loop occurs to sustain the ongoing ideation process. I call it ‘process creativity’ as it involves the cross-fertilisation of creative ideas within a period of time, whilst executing a particular action for which there is a peculiar interest.

An action such as eating and drinking during food fests, for example. By the end of the food fest, individuals who participated in the exchange of creative ideas during the event would often let off a deep breath of relief in the spirit of collective congruence concerning a usually original and authentic idea.

Many would agree that the nature of a place does have a way of influencing how people think around, analyse and visualise a phenomena. Drawing from the definition of a creative idea, then the place should not be overlooked as it also positively contributes to an individual’s emotions, intuitions, experiences and or memories.

The place becomes even more relevant as individuals consciously or subconsciously attempt to tap into their emotions, intuitions, experiences and/or memories in order to further cultivate creative ideas. I call this ‘place creativity’ as it involves the generation of creative ideas due to the influence of a particular place.

I strongly believe food fests are a force to be acknowledged in Miri. Miri food fests are undoubtedly a currency for cross-cultural creativity.

Dr. Ogbeibu is a lecturer and programme coordinator for the Department of Management, Faculty of Business, Curtin University Malaysia. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Malaysia, and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Wales (Prifysgol Cymru), Cardiff, UK. His research interests include creativity, innovation, human resource management, organisational behaviour, environmental and technological turbulence, leadership, business research methods and career development. He has published in and is a reviewer panel member for top-tier journals such as Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal of Business Research, Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Scientia Iranica (International Journal of Science & Technology), Knowledge Management Research & Practice, and others. He is an international advisory and review board member for the Market Forces journal.

1 – Ogbeibu et al. (2018. pg. 41). The dark side of trustworthiness perception and its effect on the diffusion of creative ideas within organisations. Business Creativity and the Creative Economy Journal. 4, 40-52.