After having spent most of the day in the kitchen cooking in preparation for our Thanksgiving Open House Pot Luck Dinner, reading about what my Jewish friends were eating in celebration of Hanukkah, and all the amazing dishes my friends were making for their Thanksgiving feast this year, it was easy to think about eating. Each year, I tell myself I am only going to make the two things I commit to making, but that is never true. I always find it important to ensure I have made at least one thing that each member of my household, which this year is three, really loves on the table. So for Zoe it was my baked ham (thank you Ina Garten) and my macaroni and cheese. For Sam, it was pumpkin cheesecake, although it could have been anything pumpkin. For me, it was my two cranberry relish and stuffing. For my guests, I am making my twice a year holiday garlic smashed potatoes with mascarpone cheese. Ready to eat yet? LOL
What I found interesting as I read through my friends posts was how so much of what people were making to eat had a personal story behind it. My friend Heather wrote about making red meatloaf and cookies with her mother when she was still alive and how she is now teaching her daughter how to make these things. Meddy talked about purple potato latkes in memory of her grandmother and her neighbor. None of the things I make at the holidays is related to family traditions, but to traditions that I have created with my family and share with those I love.
It made me realize that so often when we eat, it is not just the food itself, but the memories associated with a specific food. For example, when I cannot eat lox and TempTee cream cheese without thinking about my mother and all the times we would have a “girls” picnic on the kitchen floor. Food can become a way of pouring libations, a tradition used in some cultures to remember the spirits of ancestors. Each of this form of “pouring libations” comes with a story. It is like curling up with Laurie Colwin’s book More Home Cooking and reading stories that are more “like conversations with a longtime neighbor--one who can reminisce all day about the great meals she's cooked and eaten; one who sees cooking as a wonderful adventure complete with a pot of Curried Broccoli Soup at the end of the rainbow.”
Eating is about remembering stories of the traditions one grew up with as a child. Having grown up Jewish, I grew up with the stories about Hanukkah gelt and learned how to play dreidle and make potato pancakes. I learned the stories about all the foods on the Seder plate at Passover. As my understanding of the Ultimate Consciousness expanded, I began to appreciate the stories about bread and wine and all the other foods, spices, and herbs mentioned in sacred writings.
When I eat someone else’s food, I know it is a gift from them through which they hope I experience the Ultimate. When others eat my food, I pray for the same. Not only do we provide each other with the opportunity to know God, but also to become enlightened. As Ram Das shared in a conversation with his teacher:
Ram Das: How will I know God?
Teacher: Feed people.
Ram Das: How will I become enlightened?
Teacher: Serve them.
So as we eat, my we remember we are helping someone to know God. When we serve each other, at meal and other times, we provide others and ourselves with the opportunity to become enlightened.