Growing up, almost every meal in our house was homemade. In the evening we would gather at the table, my father at the head, or it would seem, at least closest to the door and the woodburning stove. Mom sat next to him, within arms’ reach of the kitchen counter, my sister, then me, all in a circle around the creaky old walnut table that had been passed on from my grandparents. Mom would say that Dad was greasy and should have washed up better. Dad would eat fast, smother his bread with butter, sopping his plate until it was clean. “That was good, dear. Thank you”.
On the best nights, my sister would avoid my father’s cross-eyed scowl, the result of her inescapable clumsiness, either falling out of her chair or spilling her milk, and I would successfully convince my mother that I was full of vegetables and couldn’t possibly eat a bite of the meat on the plate before me.
Our meals were fresh, balanced, healthy, and often from our garden. When I was really young, Mom would make fresh yogurt and butter, courtesy of the neighbor’s dairy cow, and honey came from a local beekeeper, full of comb, sometimes by the gallon. The pantry doors never hid flashy candy wrappers or soda cans, only the occasional homemade treats sweetened with honey or molasses. My Mother was the master of her kitchen (and the chocolate stash I knew nothing about until I was no longer a threat to its existence).
My sister and I were expected to help in the kitchen just as we were expected to help in the garage. I learned that the tools to fix a meal and the tools to fix a car weren’t so dissimilar, and that with intense care and thoughtfulness, just about any ailment could be remedied with the right ingredients – testy cough, bruised ego, tender heart, or clunky exhaust.
All this to say I was raised with a healthy food view. My parents never demonised sugar or processed food. They just didn’t give it to us. It wasn’t considered food. And aside from that whole salmon patty making incident when I almost gagged to death, they respected the fact that I didn’t care to eat or touch meat of any kind. My mother even recognized that when I got sick as a twelve-year-old and the doctors couldn’t seem to find a cause, that altering my diet was a worthy endeavor. Right or wrong, in her care, without the western medicinal shot in the dark, I got better.
Not long ago I peeled myself off the couch, despite a lingering bout of fatigue, to go see The Suffers. Because when my friend Chris says “You’ve gotta see this band”, I’ve gotta go see the band.
As I moved to the beat, slightly mesmerized by the lead singers gentle ass shaking and sultry, sweet voice, her words reached in, pinched my heart, and I started to cry. “When people care about you, they cook for you” she said, then belted out the soul massaging sounds of their single “Make Some Room”. My insides melted as her words vibrated every last cell from my head to my toes.
Food has played a powerful role in my life – outside of being essential for living – a source of healing and sharing. I thought about all of my memorable life experiences, usually adventures with special people, a great meal, some tacos, or at least a handful of trail mix. And about all the chefs, cooks, and foodies that I learned from and the love of the incredible people that endlessly surround them. But I had never before so clearly realized the importance of feeding one another for healing, literally, the act of filling each other up with care and love.
Science and western medicine have been slow to reconcile the effects that the things we consume have on every aspect of our life, including our emotional state and wellbeing. Within the last couple of years, I have eliminated sinus infections and anxiety from my world by ditching dairy and other inflammatory foods. Recently I’ve gone so far as to adopt the Paleo AIP guideline for eating in an effort to battle my longtime nemesis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. With no known cause or cure, getting a handle on my symptoms by carefully selecting the food that I eat has been no less than my own personal hero’s journey.
I have become aware of each ingredient that I consume and it’s effect on how I feel each hour of each day. I have become much more connected to the process of preparing a meal, how I eat, what I eat, and when I eat it. I have personally witnessed the transformative power of food. I’d like to advocate, not for one particular diet, but for every one of us to make a commitment to awareness – of each bite we take, each ingredient, where it comes from, and the impact it has on the whole self and our environment.
Through this journey, above all, my desire to share food with others has increased tenfold. Any ambition to feed the world is not remotely possible but starting with those I care about, and asking them to do the same, is a worthy cause.
So come on over. Grab a bowl. Let me cook for you. Fair warning though, I absolutely intend to use food as medicine to bring a smile to your face and soften your bumps and bruises. Because I can’t imagine a more important time to heal one another, from the inside out, by sharing the power of uplifting, soul-filling, mind-clearing, heart-pumping spoonfuls of a caringly prepared meal.
“When people care about you, they feed you” – Kam Franklin, The Suffers.