Story by Lisa A. Listwa
I love food. I mean really love. I love all kinds of food – healthy (and not so healthy) food, bread, cheese, meat, vegetables, fruits, desserts, sit-down or on-the-go meals – all of it. In one of his plays George Bernard Shaw wrote, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” I think he was onto something there. My love for food runs deep and true and it has been a lifelong love affair.
The Ties that Bind: Memories and Traditions
For me, food is tied to memory and tradition. Some of my best and earliest memories involve food. I can recall holiday celebrations and Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house from the earliest days of my childhood right through to the funeral lunches after my grandparents’ deaths. My extended family gathered for all the holidays and each holiday came with its own menu standards. For Christmas, the menu was always Italian with pans of lasagna or stuffed shells and homemade sauce and meatballs. For the Fourth of July, it was hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill with all the usual sides – potato or macaroni salad, baked beans, watermelon slices, toasted marshmallows, and more. I remember having turkey and ham for Thanksgiving (and maybe Easter, too) because we have some in the family who don’t like turkey and some who don’t like ham. It makes perfect sense to me.
My family celebrated birthdays together. Sometimes the party was for an individual and the birthday person always got to choose the menu. My grandmother would call and ask, “So what do you want to eat for your birthday?” I can remember vivid details from the birthday I had a Star Wars cake made by my godmother. Other parties were for a group, like the “August birthdays” party because we had so many with a birthday in that month. That menu? Steamed clams and corn on the cob.
As I grew older and moved out on my own, food became a way to connect me to home. If I needed to know how to make something, I’d call my mom, my grandmother, or one of my aunts. If I visited family, I can guarantee there was a meal involved and I rarely went home without leftovers or groceries from their pantries. I loved the feeling of having a bit of home with me in my new place.
Beyond Nutritional Value
Food is also a means of showing affection. What better way to show someone your love and care than to make a meal or send them out into the world with leftovers and groceries? Cooking for my own family feels a little like writing a love letter. And I am convinced food made with love tastes exceptionally good! If making a meal for someone shows you love them, then physically feeding someone is perhaps the ultimate act of love. Think about feeding a baby, a sick or elderly loved one.
I love the way food brings people together. Food can play a central role in spending time with family and friends or even co-workers. Sharing a meal is a great way to connect, to break the ice, and to help everyone relax. Going on a date? Go out for dinner or maybe coffee and dessert. Business meeting? Try a working lunch. I’ve had some fun and interesting conversations with fellow shoppers in the supermarket about different products. Preparing food is another way to bring people together. I love spending time in the kitchen with my daughter. I teach her how to cook, of course, but it’s also a gateway to storytelling and just general conversation. If in the process of learning how to make a stir-fry my pre-teen wants to talk about whatever’s on her mind while we chop vegetables, I’m certainly not going to stop her.
Food offers learning opportunities. Start with the obvious process of learning things like how to boil an egg or how to toss a salad, of course. But working with food also gives us space to learn about new and different foods and techniques. We can discover how to use various spices and seasonings, how much cheese is too much on a pizza (is there really such a concept?), how to eat chocolate fondue without wearing it, or how to use those weird vegetables from your CSA box. There’s plenty of room for honing problem-solving skills, too, when you have to figure out what to do with bits of leftovers, vegetables that are just about to cross the border into “too old,” or how to fix a stew that’s too thin or too salty. I love finding cleaner, healthier ways to enjoy the foods I love. The possibilities are endless.
Food sometimes works like medicine. It can help or heal the body. It can affect our physical and mental performance as well as our moods. I’ve spent a lot of time learning how the foods we eat affect our bodies and it’s fascinating. We all know the tried-and-true chicken soup remedy for a cold or the flu. But food can also help with everything from heart disease and diabetes to inflammation and arthritis symptoms to managing aspects of things like allergies or ADHD. Learning how to care for and heal our bodies with the foods we eat can do wonders for our health and well-being and bring about such a sense of power.
Food can be therapeutic and comforting. How many of us have reached for a pint of ice cream, a bowl of mashed potatoes, or a chocolate bar when we needed a little good old-fashioned comfort? Preparing food can also be a source of relaxation and calm. A soothing cup of chamomile tea does wonders for the spirit. I find chopping vegetables to be a little meditative, to be honest. Focusing on the smaller parts of food preparation takes my mind off the troubles of the day. And if your family happens to bail out on the togetherness and food prep option? Well, then you’ve found a little bit of alone time!
The Lifelong Love Affair
I’m sure I could sit over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie and talk for hours with you about the many ways I love and appreciate food. I’m sure I’ve done it with friends and family (and strangers) a hundred times already. It’s kind of like talking about a loved one or a pet – I just can’t help myself and I can always find something to gush about. My love of food has changed and grown over time, but it always remains and I’m sure we’ll be happy together for many years to come.