“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” Epicurus
Food is a backdrop for conversation, a platform for sharing an experience, a way for people to connect with each other. First dates, with all their potential for good or bad, are almost always over food. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when families reconvene over holiday dinners, offices have holiday parties at restaurants, and women have cookie exchanges, are all about food
Making and sharing food is an expression of love between family and friends. Agape is a loaf of warm homemade bread, a favorite cookie made each Christmas. When I still cooked, women friends and I shared potlucks and tea parties. I treasure a recipe given to me by a friend who has passed away, because more than pictures or any physical thing of hers, those cookies remind me of Mae’s love.
Creating and sharing a meal approaches a religious experience – and I’m not saying that just to make fun of uber-foodies. Judith Jones, who was Julia Child’s editor, writes: “Cooking demands attention, patience, and above all respect. It is a way of worship, a way of giving thanks.” She found that the root word of religious means
“’to bind, to tie fast, to reconnect.’ Isn’t that what we do when we cook? We connect again to the earth, to the source of our food, and we bind to one another in the sharing of it, the breaking of bread together, the celebrating of life.” (Both quotes from “The Ritual of Cooking,” Eating Well Magazine, November-December 2007)
There is a unique sensuousness to food, even something as simple as fresh bread. The sticky dough that yields to elasticity and tells you when you’re done kneading. The yeasty baking smell, the just-right shade of golden brown. The sound of the crust crackling under a serrated knife, a steaming center. The contrast of crisp and soft in your mouth. We are connecting to ourselves, not just the earth and each other. We are nourishing whole beings.
With each change in my diet or life, I’ve noticed that how and what I eat, and who I eat with, has changed too. The ritual of cooking is a small part of my life now. I no longer plan multi-course dinners and spend hours cooking. I haven’t made Julia Child’s baguettes in years. I became single about ten years ago, and my son left for college almost five years ago, so I generally eat alone. I follow a restricted diet due to kidney disease, and it has grown more so over time, making me a challenge to cook for. Eating alone, I have fewer rituals and am less connected to people, which is not me whining, just an observation. I would be embarrassed to eat frozen waffles and jam for dinner with a guest, so there are upsides. What I feel I’ve lost by not cooking, though, is a way I could be generous with people who are important to me.
One of the positive changes to come from food’s lesser role in my life is that I used to be a bit of a food snob. I still like very good food, but my taste has become more simple, both by choice and necessity. Meals have become much more about the company and much less about the food. When my beloved friend Kari and I get together, we combine leftovers or salad parts from our fridges or eat cheese and bread if that’s all we have in the house. A dinner at Subway with someone I love is a great meal.
The best meals are shared between people. Like good religion, food in good company is part ritual, part love, nourishment for the head and the heart – secular communion. Food, people, culture, and place have been rolling around my head for a few weeks and I expect to write another blog or two about food and community. What are your thoughts?
“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food.” (Who else but Julia Child.)
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