Loving your food

I love to eat what I eat. My pleasure at the stove and table are sincere and coherent.
– “Learning How to Eat Like Julia Child” by Tamar Adler, New Yorker

Julia Child’s 100th birthday was yesterday, and this essay on learning to eat and love food is good.  I think about this a lot–what food means to us, what it should mean to us, how we use it, how we taste it, how we feel about it, what it means to relate to food as a human.

It’s frustrating to me to see people using food, instead of relating to it. “Eating is a chore,” says a friend, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say those words. This utilitarian, eat-because-I-have-to relationship with food is unhealthy at best, and is perhaps a reflection of more serious issues: displacement, non-identification with one’s physical self (someone help me find the right word for this?), and a lack of ability to savor life outside of the manufactured world of technology, efficiency, and production.

I would argue, even, that it is anti-Christian to have a merely utilitarian relationship to one’s food. I’ll write on this at greater length later, but if God incarnate as the man Jesus made such a point of instituting the sacrament of communion and said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood, food can never again be just something we put in our bodies (“fuel” says that horrible industrialist metaphor) to provide energy for our day. God has eaten with us and made the very act of eating together something that he not only identified with, but made a vital part of how we relate to him and each other.

Some topics I hope to work through on this topic include:

  • Physicality and eating
  • Incarnation and eating
  • Communion and eating
  • Creating and food
  • Tasting
  • Satisfaction/being made full
  • Place and food

Now, I don’t know if I’ll post separately on each of these, combine them together, or expand the list further, but this is something I’m passionate about and if I put the list up here, I’ll be more personally motivated to follow through with all of these topics.

Part of my interest in food is driven by my family’s culture–we have always gathered as a family for dinner, and my parents have always involved us in the preparation of meals and taught us to enjoy a wide variety of foods. We’ve had a garden for years, we’ve experimented with trying to make authentic dishes from other cultures, and we’ve always tried new things together. Various family members have had food allergies or intolerances, and so we’ve had to get creative to accommodate each other’s needs.

Our holiday traditions, as a whole, center around foods more than anything else, I think. My twin brothers were born in early May, and we’d go strawberry picking together and have fresh strawberry shortcake at the peak of strawberry season. Christmas eve was always a seafood dinner with artichokes. Christmas lunch would be tamales and pico de gallo, and dinner would be a full feast with ham. Thanksgiving saw us putting out the very Northern dishes of rutabaga and creamed spinach with nutmeg, as well as the Southern roasted sweet potatoes to accommodate the family traditions of both my mother’s family and my father’s. Our loyalty to our hometown in California dictates the type of oranges, lemons, olives, and steak salt rub we use. My grandma’s favorite spice cake recipe is the family standby for birthday cake.

My dad teaches us all how to use knives efficiently, how to read a recipe and be precise. My mom teaches us the chemistry of baking ingredients and what one can substitute for something in a pinch. My dad interacts with flavors like a painter with colors, mixing and adjusting until he hits on the right combination, and teaches us confidence to create variations on favorite recipes.

Food is a curiosity and a communal art for us, and so it’s been a bit amazing to me to leave home and discover that this is pretty unusual (in middle class America) today. Most people don’t know where their food comes from, don’t know how cook beyond following the directions of a recipe, and don’t have much of a personal relationship to food beyond silencing hunger and supplying energy. There’s no holistic ethos for why we eat and where and how.

I’m not a fan of ignoring physicality. So let’s talk about this: why do you eat?

7 thoughts on “Loving your food

  1. I eat because I have to. The fact that you have such fond memories of food is amazing – the food I made to feed my entire family was always bland (because of taste preferences) and it was always so stressful, that for me to actually enjoy food and savor it beyond “this tastes good and my blood sugar levels are back to normal” is remarkably rare.

    Alex on the other hand, has more of a similar food experience to you, in that most of his best memories center around food, and life and everything centers around food and it’s very hard for me to understand (because my food memories are so vastly different, and holidays with food meant 10x more stress).

    It makes it interesting when it comes to cooking for ourselves too. Because I don’t enjoy it and if I ever end up cooking on a regular basis I start to get depressed and stressed again and prefer to cook alone. Alex likes to cook together and does the majority of the cooking, but sometimes cooking “together” isn’t very good for either of us, because it just stresses me out which ruins the whole thing that was trying to be achieved….

  2. Love this! Can’t wait to see what else you write. I have a very complicated relationship with food. For a long time I was very much an emotional eater, i ate to feel better, or not feel at all. I have recognized that try now to not have that be my motivation for eating. But food still does bring a lot of emotional satisfaction. A yummy dessert or starbucks drink, can make a crummy day look alot better. Eating is also part of social interaction, there is something bonding about eating together. Outside of those contexts I can feel like eating is a chore, if you are just eating to feed yourself, it can get tiring.

  3. You are so gracious in your memories of how we related to food. I think much of our family food iethos came from our California gourmet ghetto roots. There, food is a celebration and not just a necessity. We were gastronomically blessed to live at the intersection of cultures and amazing fresh foods. I am fully grateful that you have valued this part of your family experience. In the language of food, words such as “savor,” “robust,” and “piquant” would be apt. Bon appetit!

  4. My family is probably responsible for whoever gave you that “eating is a chore” quote, and we deserve a little ribbing for that. But you’re so right about how food brings people together in a unique and sacred way. Even for an anti-foodie family, we have a couple of ingrained food-based traditions. The runner-up is taco salad and watermelon every July 4th, but our most permanent culinary ritual is our Christmas Day breakfast. One year in the early 1990s, my parents put together a fruit and cheese tray for us as a healthier alternative to their previous Christmas tradition of Danish pastries. As we all grew older and got more creative, this annual breakfast turned into a bizarre and eclectic smorgasbord filled every kind of gourmet cheese, artisan cracker and bread, exotic fruit and special coffees, teas and juices we could find. None of us can exactly explain what makes that particular breakfast so special, but it’s what defines Christmas for us as a family.

    Thanks so much for writing this wonderful post! I am so glad I get to be your husband.

  5. “non-identification with one’s physical self”…suggested words: dissociated; estranged; dissevered…will one of these do?
    i, too, grew up with home cooking, experimentation, and a communal emphasis with food. cooking and eating is a multi-dimensional experience for me, intertwined with creativity, gathering and fellowship. the variety of foods and flavors, the cooperation and nurturing that cooking foster, the pleasure of taste, and the enjoyment of those eating combine to make a whole that eludes description. really, sometime when you are in richmond you must come and visit. we will cook. we will eat. we will commune.

  6. I know people constantly talk about how they don’t care to see people’s meals on instagram or Facebook but part of me wonders a) if that’s true and b) if that’s not part of enjoying food–to document it. I love cooking, I love eating delicious and healthy foods, and my favorite is trying new food I’ve never had before. I’m excited you’re going to be writing about this! 🙂

  7. Awesome. My memories and connections with food are similar. Though I think for my family, it’s almost about an inheritance. Folks will talk about passing on everything from mementos to mansions but the Ketter family only has its meals to pass on. My Nana (God rest her) was a brilliant cook and hostess and ingrained that love of the table in my Da and the rest of us. At holidays, the men of the family do the majority of the cooking– it’s our act of remembering, serving, giving and celebrating the family.

    Now, the dark side of this is: I’m naturally suspicious of others’ cooking, secretive about our recipes/methods (like I said, it’s the only inheritance I will ever get), and have a hard time commending the efforts put into a meal that is similar to one we’d make (sweet ham, spaghetti, and cinnamon rolls come to mind) – though I’ve been working on being more appreciative. It’s a chore to love others’ cooking when the family cooking is so dang good though!

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