Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Meaning of Food


I think it’s time I explain my relationship with food. Food is more to me than just sustenance, it is tied to my conception of the world, my community and my culture. Food is how we celebrate our victories, sooth our wounds and how we create community. We eat in times of happiness and sadness, for joy and for pain. We bring a plate of cookies to a new neighbor, a pot of soup to those who are sick. Food can do so many things, and yet at the end of the day, it is just food. It’s not overly complicated, doesn’t require anything from you, it is there simply to satiate your hunger and nourish your body.

I sought comfort in food at an early age, holding on to it for stability when it seemed my world was flying to pieces. It manifested itself in strange ways, like a constant, baseless fear of running out of food. I grew up simply, but having enough food was never once an issue- I have no idea where my fear came from. At birthday parties, I would eye the platters of beautiful food with an almost crazed mind, panicked at the thought that I would not get enough cake; that they would run out and I would be left cakeless, other kids eyeing me with pity. I had no basis for this fear, I have never seen a children’s birthday party with a shortage of cake. But I could not be convinced.

As I got older, I lost the fear of not having enough, and sought the comfort of food in other ways. I was an overachiever in school- straight A’s, dancer in a dance company, Rotary Interact Club President, outrigger canoe team, art classes- my resume was optimized for college applications. Food was my outlet. A simple process of mixing ingredients to yield a yummy finished product. Nothing to be graded, judged, or held up for comparison, this food was just for me.

I found my passion for cooking in college. I was shy, not the type of girl to go to wild parties, and turned to cooking to make friends. The smell of fresh hot chocolate chip cookies baking in a dorm could attract even the most reclusive of college kids. With food, I forged friendships and created my tribe. I joined a sorority, and through it made deep friendships with amazing women- smart, funny and inspiring. Each of our events was marked with food; cookie parties celebrating our accomplishments, dinners saying goodbye to graduating seniors, even attendance at our chapter meetings every Monday night was guaranteed with some sort of food bribe. We laughed and cried over those meals and parties and through them grew into our young adult selves. 

Graduation scattered my closest friends across the country, but I stuck close to the familiar in the more sophisticated city of Seattle. The city brought many new things, but brought me closer to the tight knit group of girlfriends who stayed nearby. There were so many restaurants to be explored, happy hours to be tested and food festivals like the international cheese festival in Pike Market. Best of all, we started a tradition called Tuesday Night Dinner. The location rotated between each of our starter apartments, with barely enough kitchen space to turn around, let alone create a meal. We came up with a theme, like breakfast, Mexican, appetizers, risotto, and all brought parts of the meal and, of course, a few bottles of wine. No matter what our crazy lives threw at us, we always had Tuesday nights with the girls. While it was the companionship we treasured, it was the food that brought us together. 

I have moved on from Seattle, but not from Tuesday Night Dinners. Instead of cooking to maintain relationships, I am cooking to build new ones. The meals have changed too. That first year out of school we were all playing at being grown-ups, pulling together prepared meals from the glorious Metropolitan Market (my favorite thing about Seattle shopping, more on that another day). Now that I have more time, I spend it creating menus, perfecting techniques (or at least attempting them), and appreciating the power of food.

I don’t know where my relationship with food will take me next, whether it will remain a hobby or blossom into a career, but I know that this love affair will continue throughout my whole life. No matter what else is going on, I know that with a few simple ingredients, I can satisfy someone’s basic needs, nourish their body, and even bring a smile to their face. That is the power of food, and it is a power I am happy to have. 

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