IT EATS AT
It Eats At My Stomach digs into the diasporic experience of director Dharra Budicha’s family through the lens of gastro memory. When her parents joined the first wave of Oromo migrants to Toronto in the late 80s and early 90s, traditional food was often the most compelling and authentic connection to the motherland. But as cultural hybrids emerge in Budicha’s now mixed-generation Oromo-Canadian family, so too does the question of cultural survival and relevance outside of Oromia.
A deeply personal look at how traditional cuisine has come to serve as one family’s last frontier to assimilation, It Eats At My Stomach is an intimate (re)quest to make room at the table for the old, familiar place of cultural belonging that is “back home”, and a newer, diasporic landscape that, for some like Budicha, is just as familiar to the bone.
When I first developed the idea for It Eats At My Stomach, I had only one image in mind: that of my mother seated on the small kitchen floor, a pot of marqa placed steadily on a pizza cardboard plate in front of her, burnt with use. Cradling the bottom sides of the pot with her feet, she looms over the moistening flour with a stately wooden spoon and stirs, vigorously.
For my mixed-generation Oromo-Canadian family, traditional meals like marqa- a dish made from barley and slathered with clarified butter and barbarre- are the strongest connection to “back home,” the Oromia region of Ethiopia. Curious as to why Oromo food had survived in my family when so many of its cultural counterparts, like clothing, jewelry, and language, had more or less fallen by the wayside, I set out to make a short, intimate film of the whats and whys behind my parents’ sacred connection to Oromo cuisine.
This being my first film, I had no idea what the process would look like. And so I dived into my three-day shoot with wonder, fear, and the one sequence of my mother cooking on the kitchen floor seared into my mind’s eye. I knew I wanted the film to be warm, which would offer space to the trauma of cultural survival post-migration without focusing solely on it. Melanin, I was adamant, would be front and centre of the images I took. And as I documented the diasporic relationship between an Oromo meal and its maker(s), I envisioned a contemplative, observational film - one where my parents’ stories would intercut smoothly with the live action of cooking and eating a traditional meal of marqa and smoked milk.
But I entered post-production with more stress than I thought possible, pushing the film this way and that, trying to squeeze it into the narrative I thought I’d initially set out to capture. Constructive feedback from fellow filmmakers (including one editor who implored that I “stop pussyfooting your way through this”) made it painstakingly clear that this film was less about the significance of Oromo food in my family as it was about my own, first-generational grief at the sheer irrelevance of Oromoness in my life.
As Michael Rabiger puts it, “... much documentary is really disguised autobiography.” Once I finally surrendered to the real story emerging from the footage, the film’s narrative turned its attention squarely on me and my non-relationship with things of cultural importance. Shifting between loss, joy, and cautious optimism, It Eats At My Stomach is now an intimate plea to both reclaim and reimagine what home, identity, and a hybrid Oromo-Canadian life ought to really be.