I like to think how different places and people around the world share things, and one thing that is shared is food. Not that we all eat the same things or cook in the same ways, but that food is such a part of our culture and that there are so many stories around food feels universal.
Food is a pretty heterogeneous aspect even within a culture. When I think of all the different diets or styles of eating among my group of friends and family, I realize that it is unlikely that each person has the same experiences with or perspective on food. And yet, sitting down at a table with friends or family is a uniting event for me.
I didn’t grow up learning how to cook. My aunt and grandmother would do the cooking for family gatherings as their way of showing us how much they loved us. At home, my dad made most of our meals but they weren’t very complicated recipes or processes. I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen as a child unless it was to eat.
When I was preparing to leave for college, I felt that cooking was a life skill I lacked so I attempted to make manicotti for my parents for dinner. Somehow, it turned into a Mexican dish. While in college, I went home with my roommate for the weekend and her mom handed me a head of lettuce so I could prepare the salad for dinner. I honestly was frozen trying to figure out the first steps. Do I wash it? What do I do about the core?
Thankfully, I did eventually learn how to cook by watching the Food Network. I enjoy the process of cooking and I am amazed at how creative and undaunting it really is. I am proud to say that I can peel and chop garlic, throw together a roux, and whip up a marinara. Ironically, however, I now buy salad in a bag.
When it’s been a while since I have seen someone or I am wanting to reconnect with them, it’s a natural thing for me to invite them over for food. I think it creates a more relaxed setting while also meeting a physical need. Cooking can be an expression of hospitality or can be a way to introduce guests to one’s own culture. Cooking for someone can be a way to express love.
I think that our food stories are part of the good around me. It is a great example of how we can disagree about how something should be done but not let that disagreement turn into an exclusion. No matter how differently we think about food, there will always be a seat at my table for you.