I am a single mum with three adult kids only one of whom now lives at home. I grew up in an environment where food was an important part of daily life and social connectedness. My mother said “I love you” with the food that she put on the table as we grew up, sent round when we left home and then shared with the grand children as they came along. They all have fond memories of cooking with Grandma, as do I. Together in different ways we taught my children to cook.
Home education was the path I chose in raising my family and cooking was a big part of it because we were at home and meals are a continuously occurring event! Cooking is also a great vehicle for learning to read, working practical maths, getting organised and learning to follow instructions, and experiencing the duality of science and art that is the beauty of creating good food! The day my youngest, at age 8, pulled out a recipe book, found a recipe that she wanted to cook for lunch, opened the fridge and surveyed the contents, then turned and said “All I need is x, y and z. Can I go to the shop?” I knew that she had “got it” – she had a skill that many adults around her did not possess. Imagine her horror eight years later when she discovered that her first serious boyfriend could not cook! After all her brother is an excellent cook.
It grieves me to see what is happening to food in our modern world. We have lost connection with our food – with where it comes from, what it takes to produce, its value and the role it can, and ought to play in our lives. We eat on the run, in our cars, as we work or mindlessly in front of a screen and often we eat alone. I remember the discussions as I grew up about the impact of television – that families now ate in front of the television instead of round the table.
I heard recently of a teacher who was talking to her primary class about eating and reported that many, if not most of the children, reported eating most meals alone, taking their plate into a bedroom to watch a movie or play a game. Research is showing that we are losing a great deal when we do not sit down with our families to eat. It is not just the social experience although this is important. It is noticing whether your daughter is skipping on food, whether your son has something on his mind that is worrying him but that he is not talking about. It is the lack of conversations that both connect the family and grow their vocabulary and general knowledge. Children in families that eat together have been shown to have better employment prospects, better physical and mental health, and stronger connections that help build resilience.
But it goes deeper still. Food is our common bond. Something that all humanity shares. We all need food and it forms a part of the fabric of our lives. It is woven through our language, art, culture and religion. A recent ABC news item showed women from several faiths sharing recipes and cooking together as a way to get to know each other and to break down barriers and prejudices. That has been my experience.
Across my life I have shared food with many different people and it has shaped who I am and what appears on my table, feeds my body and soul. The north country English cooking that is my inheritance from my Gran and my mother; the middle eastern food of my childhood; the Indian cooking that I learnt with one of my best friends in university days; the Chinese flavours that I shared with my first serious boyfriend, a ‘Colombo Plan’ student from Laos studying in Australia; the Italian food from the Don Camillo – a local restaurant that has been a part of Hobart as long as I have, where I have watched several Maitre D’s come and go on their career paths as I have grown from child to adult, to young mum and now come accompanied by adult children; through to the delicate Thai dishes that my next door neighbour, a recent migrant who moved here to marry, passes over the fence!
I find myself considering key questions about my life:
Who do I feed? Feeding people is important; cultures have long had rules and traditions about such things. ‘Breaking bread’, offering hospitality to travellers, Wedding Breakfasts, final suppers, Christmas pudding, Thanksgiving turkey … and so many more around the world.
And who do I eat with? My family, friends, the girls in my Guide Unit, students at a horticulture course BBQ, members of the choir, work colleagues, clients … Each meal is different and presents new opportunities.
Who we feed and who we eat with define a great deal about us and our lives. This blog is my exploration of these questions – part recipes, part philosophy, part soul searching and part reminiscing.
When my mum died the family came together and we cooked up a storm to share with family and friends, about eighty of them – a Middle Eastern Banquet to honour her life – how else would we say “We love you and you will be missed” Three generations took part in creating that meal and she would have been proud of each and everyone of us – even if, as a good north country woman she might not have let us know! And we all sat down to eat together – food on the table in her memory!