{reflections} Making Food Matter

Challah bread made for two good friends as an engagement party gift.

I’m going to make a few, quick assumptions about you:

1.) You love food.

2.) You either love preparing it or you enjoy the company of others who will prepare it for you.

3.) You probably spend a decent amount of time thinking about food and/or food politics.

Am I right? Chances are you wouldn’t even be reading this if at least one of those didn’t describe you. I can tell you, all three apply to me.

Considering I was raised by an Italian mother, I’m almost certain it’s in my DNA to give considerable thought to food and eating. Whenever I would have guests come to our house, one of the first questions my mom would ask was, “Can I get you something to eat?” This is the same woman who on a random weeknight would whip up an entire Texas sheetcake for our family of four just because she felt like it. Family get-togethers were always based around a meal (which is normal); however, my mom and/or my uncle would have to take photos of the spread before we were allowed to dig in.

To this day, even though miles separate us, we will always talk about food. She mails me recipes, we talk about recent things we’ve made, we discuss great restaurants, etc. It is not uncommon for us to give each other cookbooks as gifts. Whenever I flip through one of our Julia Child’s cookbooks, I think back to how some of my earliest memories are of me playing in the living room while my mom watched The French Chef.

Chocolate chip kale pancakes made for Keith's (KFF's Produce Manager) birthday lunch. He absolutely loves kale, so we thought these would be fun to try. They were good.

I think many people have similar fond memories that revolve around the getting together of family or friends around a meal. Even if you didn’t grow up with those memories, perhaps you are cultivating them for yourself as an adult. After all, food is at the heart of every culture. Food is the great unifier.

I should also tell you that I hope to have my own small farm someday. Growing up in big cities I would’ve never imagined I would want farming as a vocation. I can safely say that my desire to do it is based largely on my passion for food. To me, it feels like the next logical step in this journey.

So imagine my surprise when I recently finished reading Kristin Kimball’s incredibly beautiful memoir, The Dirty Life, and read these words:

“And this is the place where I’m supposed to tell you what I’ve learned. Here’s the best I can do: a bowl of beans, rest for tired bones. These things are reasonable roots for a life, not just its window dressing. They have comforted our species for all time, and for happiness’ sake , they should not slip beneath our notice. Cook things, eat them with other people. If you can tire your own bones while growing the beans, so much the better for you.”

I. Was. Floored.

I felt like she was saying everything I felt, but articulating it so much better than I ever could. I got teary-eyed reading it. I got teary-eyed again just typing it. It speaks to my past, present, and future. It gives me that same good feeling that Christina tried to get across in her post about building a community with our food swaps.

In a time when so much seems uncertain, when even the future of food and food distribution as we know it seem uncertain, cooking, eating, talking about, and sharing food seem safe and comforting. It’s why people will pay good money to see people like Joel Salatin or Michael Pollan speak. Or why some drive over an hour just to come to a food swap. It’s why we bring food to new moms and grieving families. Food, and the business of food, is meant to be shared.

Tablescape from the last time we hosted Fancy Food Club.

I feel like it’s my duty to not let the importance of food slip beneath my notice. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of a big community that feels the same. It adds a lot of peace and happiness to my life. I’m also lucky to have several “food-centered” communities in my life.

Our Fancy Food Club allows us to try our hand with cooking we normally wouldn’t do each day, and to try dishes we may never think of. It’s the enjoyment of sitting down with good friends to enjoy our meals and great conversation.

My work for Kilpatrick Family Farm is technically helping customers and CSA members select healthy vegetables at market each week. However, if you ask me, Christina, or Jillian, we will all tell you it’s something much deeper than that. It’s friendly face after friendly face telling you what they’ve been up to and sharing great recipe ideas as well. That’s what keeps me smiling when I’m standing outside soaking wet in the middle of a lightning storm at market (which has happened more than once this summer).

It’s also why I feel privileged to be a member of this blog. Yes, great recipes are shared here, but there are also great stories behind those recipes. There are recipes that make a busy night less stressful, and those that remind us of the best times in our lives. There’s also the broader discussion about food in general, which I feel is absolutely critical. Anyone can just post recipe after recipe, but I deeply enjoy reading all the other authors’ posts because in each one you can sense how important food is to them and their families.

So, I’m curious: what are the ways in your life that you honor and share food?


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Kate says:

    I felt the same way reading that passage – there’s something so nurturing about feeding your soul while feeding your body. Thanks for the reflection.

  2. Erika T. says:

    Thanks for sharing Kate. I’m glad you read the book too. It’s really fantastic.

  3. Dianna says:

    The book is sitting on my bedside table. Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Erika. While my kids were growing up, we made dinner every night, except when we went out or had something else going on. As they got older, I began to realize how unusual this was when their friends dropped by and raved about simple things like home made spaghetti or burritos. Their families didn’t cook. I don’t understand why people give up this important bonding with their children; dinner. Next to reading to them before bed, it was the most essential act that kept our family together.

  4. Alexis says:

    Erika this post is inspiring and it feels like you’ve articulated some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately. Thanks.

  5. Erika T. says:

    Thanks ladies. My mom was very strict about family dinner. Although Jack is still not a fan of everything I cook, we are all in the kitchen at dinnertime together. I fully plan to continue this until he leaves home. I really enjoy cooking for my family.

  6. Jennifer H says:

    My relationship with food has come full circle, from childhood on a farm through dark ages of fast food to emergence into the light and love of REAL food. (There and Back Again.) My grandparents grew or raised most of what they ate and prepared for others, my great-grandmother could whip up any Southern comfort food you can imagine in her tiny kitchen without any recipe cards or books that I recall, and my aunt made wedding cakes for goodness sake. Why I needed to walk a different path for a while, I’ll never know, but it lead me to where I am now. My husband and I buy as much as possible from local farms and vendors, we prepare almost all meals at home, when we do go out to eat we patronize locally-owned and sourced restaurants, and we make our friends and relatives roll their eyes by sharing WAY too much about where and how and why we acquire and enjoy our food!

    I can’t express how all of those things teach and challenge me on a daily basis, but everything, past or present, that has come to my life as a result of respecting or sharing food has been a blessing.

  7. Becky says:

    love your post. I loved that book too, and read it and pictured it and soaked it all in. And just as i did with Dirty Life, I did also with your post. You too have put words to something I could not express, hadn’t fully been able to articulate yet for myself. I want to print out this post and read it day after day, to help remind me of the “why”. For those nights when making dinner is stressful {or goes un-eaten by my kids}, when I bake and take pictures and and wonder what I am doing, for the days that are just too busy and I go through the motions but forget to remember how important all of this eating and sharing is. This post helps remind me why I have chosen to do what I do, reminds me to FEEL the importance of what I am doing…..

  8. Erika says:

    Jen- In college, although I didn’t eat meat, I ate like a horrible, processed-food loving pig. I’m so thankful I’m done with that phase in my life!
    Becky- Thank you so much, that honestly means so much to me. My hope is people will realize how fun and fulfilling it can be to grow and cook their own food and that it can have a positive ripple effect.

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