Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Food Identity

As the spiritual leader Emmet Fox once said, "It is the food which you furnish to your mind that determines the character of your life".

No wonder I am so %!&@? up.

Spin the globe and pick a spot.  Every culture has holidays, traditions, and celebrations with a focus on the "breaking of bread" with kith and kin.  Right from the get-go, the serpent lead Adam and Eve into temptation with an apple, screwing us all for eternity.  Its noted in the Book of Revelation that the body and blood of Christ is emphasized in a heavenly feast.  Buddhists monks are vegetarians who they won't take the life of an animal, but of course, if they are offered meat with their daily alms, they will not decline it.  Thanksgiving turkeys, pork on New Years, fish on Christmas Eve, some religion-based, some superstition, all cultural, all revolving around the sharing of food and drink. Universally, everyone needs it, everyone craves it, and everyone thinks everyone else's sucks next to Mama's. Major differences in regional cuisine come down to what is fresh and local (not a lot of whale blubber in Cuban cuisine) and preparation methods available (the indiginous people of cold northern Japan hang fish, their main staple, outside for weeks to dry it).  Northern Italians eat potatoes, southern Italians eat more citrus and olives.  Thanks to cable TV, you can now have a Norwegian Christmas feast in central Texas, if that's what floats your boat.  Diverse foods are more available than ever, and some will happily experiment with different tastes and exciting cooking methods, trying recipes on YouTube cooking shows.  Others are traditionalists who have fond memories of Nana spending hours in the kitchen making her generations-old recipe from scratch (my father in law has a definite opinion of Giada and her fresh look on Italian cuisine).   

So what do I mean when I say "Food Identity"? Obviously its different for everyone because of the number of factors involved.  My mother grew up on squirrel pot pie in her very small farm family.  If you tried to introduce squirrel pot pie to my husband's huge Sunday family dinners in the Bronx, well, Central Park just might have enough to go around.  And pasta con sardi doesn't go well with Granddaddy's Schmidts Beer.  The life I live today as a mid 30's rural girl married to a middle aged New Yorker is much different than how I grew up.  I get as giddy over a bologna and cheese sandwich with mayo as I do rare tuna with roe at Morimoto. "What do you want for breakfast?" should not be a complicated question, but yet, I find myself unable to answer that question on an almost daily basis.  There are times when I relish a trip to a new restaurant.  Sometimes, I dread it, perfectly happy to sit home with Slim Jims and Weather Channel because of resentment, negative body image, or laziness.  In 13 years, my parents and my in laws have not shared a meal other than an annual holiday buffet equipped with frozen hors d'oeurve and oven brined turkey (my dad doesn't like it, but he's overruled on this one).  

How did I get to this strange place? 
How many other people are here? 
My food preferences have changed as I've grown up.  What else?

This isn't so much an analysis of food as it is the people (namely me) who eat it. To what extent do the food choices our parents make for us as babies shape our personalities?  Some people maintain those tastes and never deviate from what they know as tradition while others associate those childhood meals with pain, suffering and poverty, vowing never to subject their children to such hardship.  Yet others yearn for culinary adventure a la Andrew Zimmern.  Can we identify the people in these categories from a distance, I wonder?

If nothing else, dear reader, you and I have something in common- we're people and we're hungry.  The world has quite an extensive menu.  About once a week or so we'll take a peep and see what's cooking, deeply breathe in the aromas and try to separate this dish ingredient by ingredient.  Some days, I will want to eat alone, others, I will need a comforting hand to hold under the table.  Like a meal, life has its courses, and I'm ready to learn to savor it all.  

Bon appetit!

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