As Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near, my thoughts drift to family and food. For me, it is almost impossible to separate the two words when I recall fond memories of childhood. Food has always been an integral component of my family life.
From growing kitchen gardens, canning and preserving food, raising animals and learning to cook, food has been an important aspect of family life for me and later for my own children’s lives. An intimate relationship with food has helped to bind us together as a family.
My mother always had a small garden, and she canned food. In fact, she often told me the story of when she was pregnant with me and went into labor while canning tomatoes. I wonder if that is why home-canned tomatoes have always been one of my favorite foods.
I remember as a child coming home from school hungry, and many times I was delighted to be greeted with the warm yeast and honey smell of bread baking. Some of the best conversations I had with my parents and sisters were at the supper table. We children learned the art of conversation, debate and the ability to express our opinions while enjoying a homecooked meal. We could share the events of our day, our joys and sorrows at that table and find empathetic listeners.
As a special treat on Sundays and on holidays, we might have guests or extended family join us for dinner. Those times were very special, as a dessert was included on the menu. We didn’t have sweets every day as many families do today. We also rarely ate out in a restaurant unless we were traveling.
All of my life, whenever our family gathered together at a reunion — just for fun or for a workday — it always centered around a homecooked meal. More often than not, each person would bring a dish. After dinner, we would sit around the table and play games or just catch up on each other’s lives.
Today, both mothers and fathers are working, sometimes at more than one job, outside the home; fast food, take-out and frozen dinners are convenient and time saving and, for too many people, have replaced from scratch homecooked meals. Sitting down to food that is prepared by machines or by strangers lacks the intimate connection with the person preparing it.
Also in too many instances, family members just grab their own food and, instead of sitting down together at a table and conversing, they sit alone in front of a television or computer screen, or are on a cellphone in their bedroom to eat a hasty meal. I admit to some of this behavior myself as I now live alone. But I am thankful that I and my children, when they were home, carried on the tradition of family meal time I grew up enjoying.
What has been lost in this era of “fast” food is something precious; the intimate connection that takes place with food and family. Many children today grow up not ever knowing where their food comes from or how to prepare it or share it in a meal sitting down together as a family around the table at home.
My two daughters and my son are all better cooks than I am because they grew up with a close relationship with growing and preparing food. My oldest daughter Gwen is the director of the “Slow Food” movement in Salt Lake City. The slow food movement was started in Italy 30 years ago as a reaction to a McDonald’s moving into a small Italian community. Slow food is the opposite of fast food. This international movement tries to encourage people to come back to the table and support local farmers and healthy eating.
My daughter Candi started cooking on a wood stove when we lived on a small acreage in Iowa. She was only 9 years old when she began to help cook the family meal. She loves to grow a garden and experiment with recipes. Candi is the culinary arts teacher at Horizon High School.
My son Eric has been a chef for most of his adult years. In Colorado, he provided meals for a private pre-school. He, too, loves to cook and experiment with his own recipes.
So, this Thanksgiving, we decided since most of us don’t really like turkey and the chore of fixing a huge traditional meal, we wanted to start a non-traditional Thanksgiving. We are each bringing a surprise dish and may end up with a smorgasbord of food, but knowing what good cooks each of my family members are, I am sure we will all be delighted. Once again, food will create that intimate family connection.
I’m wishing you and yours that same family connection.