As I excitedly pulled into the driveway I could already smell the tantalizing aromas wafting from inside. Rosemary? No, no wait, thyme? Onions caramelizing. And the garlic! Oh the garlic. When coming home to my parents’ house I always knew I could count on a few things—I would leave with a rejuvenated and satiated palate, every taste bud having experienced a collective culinary orgasm, my pants probably wouldn’t fit anymore, and my pores would smell like garlic for the better part of a week, forcing imminent seclusion. But yet, a contented mind and a smile always permeated that invisible aura of rich roasted garlic funk surrounding me.
My mother’s uncontrollable passion for culinary excellence undoubtedly added to the splendor of those meals—it still does. But it is because of those very meals—despite cringing green faces as I shed my garlicky eau de toilette on the world—that I learned about the power of food and the beauty of a shared meal.
A shared meal possesses power unlike anything I know. Whether it is a simple slice of bread, a bowl of soup, or a delectable plate of osso buco with a parsley and lemon gremolata, need not make a difference. The experience of a shared meal represents so much more than the immediate nourishment Americans see it as today. It represents relationships, conversation, community, perspective, and paradigm. Today, I have found that too many people in our high speed/fast paced society have fallen out of touch with the food they choose to eat. No longer does the food eaten represent a social community, family, conversation, or a learning experience—today’s food has been innately transformed into a quick fix with immediate nourishment as its end goal. Eating has been rapidly reshaped into an individual activity devoid of all social elements, favoring convenience and ease. Not only have Americans lost the social contextual importance of the meal, the quick fix/convenience-based meal too frequently has far-reaching, unforeseen consequences.
Because of my mother’s meals, I was able to learn—albeit subconsciously at the time—about those ramifications. My mother new the stories behind the meat and poultry from the local butcher, she personally labored over the herbs and vegetables she grew during the summer months. She knew what went into the creation of those ingredients and knew they were to be cherished. Today, the inherent detachment of producer and consumer does not afford this intimate understanding of the food Americans eat.
Most food is produced in far off lands, where soil is tilled by giant steel hands. It’s heavily fertilized, covered in pesticide, and blanketed by artificial raindrops. It’s picked by machine, shipped by truck, processed in plants, packaged, and thrown into the freezer section, where the microwavable box sits enticing passersby with its big bold heading: “FIVE MINUTE-ON THE GO MEAL.”
This very literal “McDonaldization” of food and the current culture of eating have undermined the sanctity and importance of the shared meal. It has become too easy to eat on the go—individually for convenience—and neglect the social importance of which a shared meal represents. Even though at times, I am duly guilty of pursuing the quick-fix meal, every time I travel back to my parent’s home and smell the aromas wafting from inside, I am quickly reminded of how much a shared meal means, how much it can teach, and the importance of knowing the food you eat.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.