the ceremony of food

Few things represent the passage into adulthood for me like food.

As a child, I ate well. I always had a well-balanced diet. My mom lovingly packed my lunches so I wouldn’t have to eat processed cafeteria food. She baked everything we ate—from bread to cheesecake. Twinkies were as foreign to my 6-year old palate as kopi luwak coffee would be to me now. My dad planted a huge garden and composted all of the fruit and veggie remains. We ate fresh and local all summer long, before anyone in our suburban Atlanta neighborhood had even heard of compost. Foods most kids would turn their noses up at were familiar to me. I knew that mushrooms were delicious and onions could add zest to any bland dish. Around 15, much to the behest of my parents, meat became my dreaded enemy. What they hoped was only a phase had become a life-long journey into the fabulous world of vegetarianism.

Fast forward to college. I was on my own for the first time, learning to eat with little money and a cafeteria food plan. Times were rough. I never went hungry, but food was eaten on-the-go and with little ceremony. I was really, really into veggies stir fried in soy sauce. I was also known to eat a pack of M&Ms for lunch, or a 6-pack of California rolls for dinner. After keeping a food journal in nutrition class, I learned that I sometimes took in less than 500 calories a day, and my sodium intake was off the charts. Awareness of what I was eating, and the need to get back on track, propelled me into the crock pot days of my early twenties. Although I am not using my crock pot nearly as much as I did in the past, I’ve discovered the wonders of the food processor, rice cooker and juicer.

This Easter I visited my Grandparent’s house and I was struck by how much ceremony goes into every meal. My grandpa wakes up early, puts on a pot of coffee and starts preparing breakfast for my grandma. When my grandma gets out of bed, breakfast is ready for her. The table is set, coffee and water are by the plates and there is a smorgasbord of food—fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, eggs, sometimes pancakes. Breakfast lasts a couple of hours and it is here that the day is planned out. My grandpa makes his own yogurt (a tradition I proudly learned a year ago), and it’s put on nearly everything. He also makes his own noodles (my next lesson). Meals are never rushed; instead it’s a time when they sit down at the table and visit with one another. My grandpa says, “I just like the ceremony of it.”

I have come to realize that I too really like the ceremony of eating. Although I am sometimes tempted to put off meals because I am too busy or don’t feel like cooking, it’s very fulfilling when I have a few hours to prepare a meal and serve it with the necessary garnish. I love experimenting with new recipes, or bringing cupcakes to my friends (although I’m sometimes accused of using too much sugar or poisoning my co-workers).

After all, why should food only be a routine?

One thought on “the ceremony of food

  1. My first memory of the Caswell “Ceremony” was hearing about Thanksgiving dinner in Anoka when your great grandfather, Keith and Dorothea, and all the brothers and sisters that were able to come would sit down at a long table. There was one turkey at each end of the table and Great grandfather, Arthur Anson, would carve one turkey, and his brother, Irving, would carve the other turkey. There were four brothers ans sisters and their familes that came and filled that house with aromas, voices and love. And food was the catalyst.

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