Sunday, November 18, 2012

Food. And its complexities.

Growing up I had a pretty healthy relationship with food. I think Rochester is a really good place for people who like food, Wegmans being an exceptionally nice grocery store, and the Rochester Public Market being one of the oldest and best loved in the country. Some of my favorite memories of growing up involve chopping vegetables for dinner while my mom or brother read books outloud, or getting basket after basket of peaches or sweet corn or red peppers to can or freeze. At my best friends-the Kennedys'-house I learned how to make a consistently excellent white sauce, how to caramelize onions and how to bake oatmeal bread. My favorite food growing up wasn't french fries or jello (we only had jello at church dinners) but my mom's tomato soup, which does not in any way resemble Campbell's, being packed full of potatoes, vegetables and ground turkey, often eaten with fresh bread. Food was a nice part of my world, and I was glad to know how to make it, liked eating it, and felt like it was one of the simple, good, parts of life.

Events over the last several years shook up my ideas and feelings about food. Many of my close friends have become vegetarians or vegans out of strong moral convictions. One of my closest friends developed an eating disorder, family members have had some serious medical issues and my parents went on a "separate your starches from your proteins" diet which made me sad and angry and other feelings I didn't know what to name. Is it weird to grieve for my mom no longer making "my mom's tomato soup" because with potatoes and turkey it doesn't fit their diet? Add into that a discovery of many of my friends with a plethora of food allergies including a couple of friends with celiac. My fiance went through a grueling nine month allergy identification diet in which he could eat very, very few things besides vegetables, most fruits and rice and potatoes. We got through it, but it was tough, and now his short list of allergies (including eggs and wheat) seems easy to handle. With all of these climactic food changes in the lives of people around me, I started noticing what everyone around me was eating. I watched the PEGs choose food at the cafeteria. I learned to make tex-mex breakfast foods from my friends from Texas, and I tried lots of things at our remarkably varied (and often excellent) cafeteria.

Now with all of that at my back, I and my housemates are cooking for ourselves three meals a day, and there are so many decisions. Decisions before we grocery shop. Decisions before we cook. I'm not sure what to do with them all. I recently read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's staggeringly good, and focuses around the question, "what should we have for dinner?" looking at food in our culture, on our dinner plates, and through history. I read it almost entirely while eating my lunches at work, which is not an experience I recommend, though I wholeheartedly encourage you to read it. Pollan writes winsomely, expertly and with feeling about topics which would in other hands seem bland. As he writes it, corn is a tragic hero, mushrooms radiate mystery and organic paradises leave much to be desired. He doesn't answer the question, doesn't say, "this is what you must do" but tells the stories of our food where it comes from and what does into it, and suggests that we should "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

That's what we've been doing in our apartment. It's been a joy to make all the soups and the curries, the salads and the breads and the muffins. We've had some meals which were real flops, some meals which were not healthy (Guy Faulks Day dinner was fish fingers and sweet potato fries), but mostly I've been really proud of us. Many of our most delicious recipes so far have come from the Moosewood Family Restaurant cookbooks. The sweet potato-apple-chipotle soup is a thing of beauty, and their chili-fest chili was pretty delicious also. Their recipes are all vegetarian, many of them vegan. It's been really nice to bring food to work in tupperwares and eat home cooked food I made myself or made by one of my lovely housemates. It's been nice having ownership over my food, and it's been nice to share it with others. I think that's my favorite part of food.

One of the people I look up to the most is one of the women who TAed us when we were 1st year honors kids in London. She said one day, "Isn't it wonderful that we have to eat? That we have to stop working and sit and feed ourselves, and hopefully with other people." It was a blessing in college (when the food was just there for us) and is still a blessing, every day to be able to eat. To have the means to purchase and prepare food. And to enjoy it with friends, and this week, family.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to distress you about the soup! Have you tried the West African Ground Nut stew (or soup) from Moosewood? It fits your criteria and I love it!


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