bumping and snacking book cover

An interview with Robert Hafey

Southern Glazer’s Bridget Albert talks to Robert Hafey about his book Bumping and Snacking: Discovering a Worldview.


Q&A interview


Robert Hafey uncovers a transformative tool in self-planned travel in his exploration of a thoughtful human connection through culture and food.


Share the inspiration behind the title of your book and provide insights into how your book explores the world.


The book title, Bumping & Snacking, was coined by a childhood friend. It implies touring around in a car (bus, train, or urban hiking) with few firm plans, and then stopping for something to eat when hungry.  This intentionally loosely planned, relaxed and unstructured travel allows the culture of the place visited to rub off on the traveler a bit. This type of travel provides time for the culture to come to the traveler, instead of the traveler running from one tourist site to the next.


Independent self-planned travel is a form of risk-taking. Traveling in a country where you are the minority and cannot speak the local language is both humbling and anxiety inducing. Many people are averse to risk, which is why cruises and bus tours are popular with tourists. Risk-averse tourists feel comfortable when someone else does the planning. They simply show up to be transported, fed, and shepherded from one tourist site to the next. Tourism has one big drawback. It eliminates the opportunity for the happenstance, chance encounters with local people that occur when you independently plan your travel itinerary.


I believe self-planned travel is an opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. It is a chance to be brave, to get past the fear of cultures, people and food that differ from the norm. It pushes individuals outside of their isolated and insulated little worlds.


I wrote Bumping & Snacking to take the readers on a fun journey of cultural discovery. Through self-planned travel experiences in twenty plus countries, and my food experiences while there, I expose the cultural differences and common qualities of all people. Seeking to gain a better understanding of others, to better understand who we are, is a journey with taking.


How does your book guide readers on a journey, and are there specific anecdotes or experiences you share that exemplify the transformative power of embracing a new culture?


First the reader must understand and accept the fact that our environment and upbringing help to define our beliefs, customs, prejudices, and the foods we are comfortable eating. As life unfolds, we interact with countless people and visit new places. We experience joy, wonder, love, heartbreak, and sadness. Those combined experiences, with people and places, determine and constantly reconfigure our view of the world. This worldview not only determines how we view the world, but how the world views us. Quantity matters. The more frequently we are exposed to people different from ourselves, and the places they live, the broader our worldview. 


The self-planned travel experiences described in Bumping & Snacking are meant to expand the reader’s worldview so that they can begin to understand the beliefs, customs, prejudices, and foods of a wide variety of people.


For example, in the Japan chapter, I describe my interaction with a Japanese woman seated next to me on a high-speed train. Even though neither of us knew the other’s main language, a very touching moment occurred when we used food to bridge the language barrier that existed between us. What we had in common, a love of and a desire to share our food, helped us connect on a deeply personal level.


Given the diverse nature of worldviews, could you discuss any cross cultural or universal themes that you have experienced?


My life experiences have helped me understand all people want to be accepted as they are, and it is the differences between us that make us unique and interesting. I believe all people are proud of their cultural heritage and are willing to share it with others if they just ask. I also believe learning about different cultures, by eating culturally diverse foods, is one of the great joys of life. These beliefs are my beliefs, and I know many others feel differently. But the fact that sixty years ago most people in the U.S. did not know what a taco was gives me hope.


Last week I attended a conference in Cleveland. Two friends and I walked a busy street while trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner. Rather than a steakhouse or an Italian restaurant, I suggested we go into a Lebanese restaurant we encountered. On the menu I saw kibbeh nayyeh. Not long ago I had watched a TV program in which this raw meat dish was prepared and served. My openness to eating new dishes allowed me to expand the worldview of my two friends. We ordered, shared, and all loved kibbeh nayeh.


The next night I was invited out and found myself seated with people I did not know. One of them was Egyptian and his English was limited. I asked him questions I often ask people who grew up in countries other than ours. “What is the one dish your mother made that you miss? If you returned home, what would you want your mother to cook for you?” He thought a minute and them using his cell phone looked up the English word for that dish. It was taro, the root vegetable Hawaiians use to make poi. He said, his mother would cube it and cook it in a broth. “Most Egyptians hate the dish, but I love it,” he said.


We continued to talk and soon discovered we both have three daughters. He quickly showed me a video of his youngest daughter as he beamed with pride. I showed him a photo of myself with three of my grandsons as I beamed back. Food, that universal theme, had opened the door for him to share with me something about his culture and his family. Rather than focusing on our differences, we talked about what we had in common.


Do you believe an open-minded approach towards food can enhance not only our culinary experiences but also contribute to a broader perspective on the importance of diversity?


The following paragraph is from the Introduction section of Bumping & Snacking.


I think Mark Twain said it best.  This quote, from his book “The Innocents Abroad,” which was published in 1869, is as applicable today as it was then.  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”


Travel, to learn about different cultures, can be a physical activity or something simpler. In my book I suggest to the readers that they can travel the culinary world simply by visiting ethnic grocery stores and restaurants in the area where they reside. I believe food is the port-of-entry to begin to understand cultures different than yours. The owners of those groceries and restaurants will educate you and help you have a great culinary experience. All you must do is be brave enough to walk into their establishments and ask.


Leave us with a toast.


“Raise your glasses with me as we toast a future brighter than today. A future where our differences are viewed as the value we bring to others and our societies.”


Is there a charity you would like to add to our charity list of giving?


World Central Kitchen     




About Robert Hafey

Continuous improvement, lean facilitator with a broad range of operational, maintenance and safety experience. Author of three books. Skilled presenter and keynote who has presented and facilitated workshops worldwide.


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