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
- 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?