The value of food manifests upon the context that food is placed in. With myself, food is about creativity and empowerment- it is a practice. Cooking can be just as rewarding as meditation. When I think about food, I am thinking about a relationship with cooking. I receive those thoughts as a challenge to create and to harmonize autonomous ingredients. Each ingredient contributing a layer of character, and a microcosm of sustenance. In my experience, the practice of cooking is like conversation. It is an expression of self and a gesture to the present environment. Similarly, when I think about food and it is surrounded by family, I know that the food in mind is a product of mutual compassion and support. In essence, food to be shared becomes a meeting place and a memory. Between these two contexts, the value of food transgresses in accordance with curiosity, passion and linkage.
Food stories are dynamic; they are influenced by events and lifestyle changes, which cause their ebb and flow. Food stories interact with one another and form culturally rich histories. I am inclined to admit that my food story began with a field-day gone wrong, and a later prescription for couch-rest. It was fourth grade, on a June morning and my class was bussed to the high school’s turf; a place that appears massive as the memory is re-surfaced in ten-year old scale. Looking back, I can’t quite remember during which relay race it was when I forgot how to use my feet, but that happening is no surprise. I do know that eventually I was on a golf cart/ambulance being transported off the field and later the ER, and not for a second phased with disappointment. Pivotal moment: the discovery of fractured bones in my foot. We exited the ER, myself on crutches for the first time and excused from fourth grade. I would miss my tree stump-perched hippie of a teacher in that time, but I was absolutely glad to have split before the Wet Sponge Relay.
Pivotal moment: my discovery of The Food Network on television. This stumbleupon, perhaps one of the best, was followed by a number of days scribbling down recipes. I filled page after page and several notebooks, never minding my propped foot nor my grandmother eyeballing me and the TV screen. Neither were promising her a slot to watch Telenovelas. I recorded recipes for everything: blueberry muffins, roasted corn and herb butter– to name a few. But, it wasn’t about writing ingredient-lists and directions verbatim. It wasn’t long before I took those recipes to the kitchen; I learned how to create steamer-pockets with tin foil, tucking vegetables and meat into the foil with citrus and spices to add more depth while cooking. I learned to cream butter and herbs, and how to use plastic wrap to form and chill the herbal spreads. Those recipes are as simple as they sound, but for my ten-year old self they opened doors. Meals before my foot injury; sweet and sour chicken (the glaze corn syrup-y and straight out of a package), and dollar steaks with yellow rice and canned corn. The bright ray of sunshine of it all: chinese-takeout picnics on my Mom and I’s living room floor.
I thank goodness for that Field Day in Fourth Grade. Raised by a single mother on a nine to five, I was eventually preparing dinner before she got home most weekdays. My grandmother was always there while my mom couldn’t be. My grandmother was quiet, spoke broken english and didn’t know much about the foods that Giada De Laurentiis or Sunny Anderson were teaching me to prepare. At the end of the day though, the best childhood memories I have of food are of my grandmother’s. I experimented with baking once or twice with my grandmother’s help, and to our regret, produced dilute birthday cake batter and hockey-puck cookies. Those attempts were a lost cause since everyone knew about the Entenmann’s she always had waiting post family-meals. Dessert was not my grandma’s fortè, but the food she did make was and still is the ultimate comfort. Fast-forward to present, and I live a vegan lifestyle. Yes, some of my grandmother’s best dishes showcased meat, but the spices; clove and pineapple ham, fresh sofrito, torta de maduro with cinnamon and queso fresca. These are flavors that define my family’s culture. They represent the excitement of my food story before I discovered a love for cooking. and preserving those flavors today allows me to stay close to my history.
One day I brought home a one pound bag of sweets from Dylan’s Candy Bar from a weekend at my Dad’s. After an ear-full from my diet-obsessed stepmother, I was rationed these treats over what felt like months. Unfortunately for my younger self, I got caught in the South Beach Diet, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and 100-calorie packs- once that wave entered our household. The women that influenced me the most as a child were influenced by body-image and the diet-fads of the early 2000s (my grandmother excluded). As a result, I dieted as a kid. I learned moderation and to be conscious about food and personal-health, but my attention to health was not a passion then. As I experienced drastic change it was confusing in many ways. I would have never guessed that today I’d be approaching my junior year at a university where I’m studying Public Health. Around high school my outlook was interrupted by the realization that most of the people closest to me were suffering– because of lack of connection between health and food. Not solely because of food or health on an individual scale, but also because of the environment’s well-being. Just yesterday I was told that the intersection between food and health (one that may seem obvious) is a fairly new field, and from what I have observed so far, it is one that is expanding.
From where I stand now, the past two years have introduced me to a range of environmental issues and a labyrinth of cultures. Among everything that I have learned so far, health and food, and nutrition and flavor are one in the same. The food system can be approached from numerous angles– all of which are critical and inspiring as they develop. What is most important to me and my story is food as a form of identity. In this role, food is both a cultural artifact and a catalyst for change.