September 4, 2018
Eighth post in a nine post series.
This has been a long series and if you're still here thanks for sticking with me!
Most of the ideas I've expressed in this series have been bubbling below the surface of my life and existed in various draft documents on my computer for a few years. The ideas in this concluding post on food culture and hospitality are no different.
Interestingly, a few weeks before I committed myself to writing through this series, I read a couple posts in other places, from two women I esteem, both discussing this same topic. It was their posts in part, as well as Brienne's video, which got the gears turning on this writing project.
(I'm certain other people are writing about this, I just haven't come across it in my recent reading. If you have any blog articles, FB or IG posts to recommend, including your own, please mention them in comments.)
First, in June, Heather wrote this in her post Sourdough: Soft Sandwich Loaf
I worked in an Italian restaurant for six years in the early 2000s. In that span of time, a grand total of one person came in with special culinary instructions related to gluten. Ina Garten recently commented that it was once easier, and in ways more pleasurable, to cook for friends. She did not say this resentfully, but honestly.
Later Heather says:
It seems the more complicated the food world gets, the simpler my own kitchen becomes.
I marinated on this post for sometime, even though I'm not a baker and have no desire to make sourdough bread.
I am not a famed chef like Ina Garten, cooking is not "my thing", but I too have long felt that cooking used to be easier. An easy I never even experienced as I started down a vegan cooking path in my mid-twenties and hadn't really established myself in the kitchen, with any particular style or specialities, before that change. I don't remember it ever being easy.
First, I was learning how to cook for Damien and I, and then I was learning how to change our diet. And then I was cooking vegan for a family, and that was never "easy" though I kept it simple.
Cooking itself has never been particularly rewarding for me. It's the opportunity to gather (to build relationship), and the sustenance provided to people I love that brings me pleasure, not the process of making food.
Admittedly, I also feel good about myself when I serve people and cooking is one way to do that. But as a vegan cook I carried a lot of insecurities, for years, that people wouldn't like what I cooked and it took some of the joy out of cooking for others. (I'm speaking here of hospitality, not the food culture in our home since we raised our children placing a high priority on cultivating gratitude for food, regardless of personal preference, etc. This might not be your favorite but we are thankful for the person who made it and that this food will sustain us.)
But unlike Heather's experience my own kitchen has not become simpler over the years, but more complicated as our own family diet culture has splintered. Simple is when you all eat basically the same thing and enjoy it. This sounds like the good ol' days to me. But not my present reality.
Unless you are the kind of cook who feels enlivened by the challenge of dietary restrictions and food preferences (I know some people are like this!), cooking for others, whether that's within our families or for guests at our table, can feel burdensome. And if you didn't enjoy cooking much to begin with, this can take the wind right out of your sails.
And yet, this is the reality of the food culture I live in. The food culture we live in.
Then, in July my mom published this post: What are you Hungry for?
I've already introduced my mom in this series in post four where I talk about learning to live outside the shadow of her cooking greatness.
In my mom's post she brings up the question what are people really hungry for when they gather around our table? She believes, and I share this belief, that "we all crave nourishment physically and for our soul". And that eating together meets these needs. But like her post acknowledges, "the challenge is finding what way fits with who we are, in the stage or place we are in right now".
I couldn't agree more.
And "finding what fits" is subject to family dynamics, culture, finances, health issues, cooking interest and energy, etc.
Regardless of those variables, people remain as hungry for human connection, for love, as they do for a nourishing meal.
(See my mom's second post Connection and Friendship: Part Two of What are You Hungry For? for a further exploration of this theme.)
Meeting that need is probably more important to me than the actual food I'm cooking. And yet, the actual food I'm cooking has the ability to communicate to someone my love for them, or not. Cooking a roast chicken for my vegan daughter is not a loving thing to do, for example.
So how do I find that sweet spot of cooking in a way that fits with who I am (not Ina Garten, my mother, or any other person, but me) and still share love with others with food and hospitality?
Next and final (finally!) post: Our house rules around hospitality and shared meals
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