A letter to food
I can’t remember when we met, but it feels like you’ve always been a part of my life. I have very few memories of you from when I was young… I remember carrying cloves of garlic around in my pocket, microwaving eggs as an “experiment”, or getting my hair caught in the blender. But mostly you were just there, silently, without demands, taking care of me.
I feel like we first discovered each other when I moved to New York at 16. Suddenly I found myself practically unsupervised. I was free to indulge in milkshakes the size of my head or to sit down to a dinner of a dozen warm and gooey Krispy Kremes. Our tryst was cheap, tawdry, indulgent, and reckless … I was only interested in the worst of what you had to offer.
A brief post-college trip to Europe made me think we could have more. Fresh and crispy baguettes sprinkled with thinly cut, but richly salty meats, gooey cheeses and light but flavorful butter... Or a cup of coffee with that sweet french milk… You clearly had complexities and delicacies I had never even dreamed of. But I guess I wasn’t ready for that.
I started college and turned my back on you and all the other things I scornfully thought of as plebeian. I was a scholar now, I knew it all. Though even as I scorned you, I still turned to you in times of stress, took comfort from your fat and salt and sugar. But I never entertained the possibility that you might have more to offer, more to teach me.
Then came the rough after-college years. I worked one of those soul-crushing 9-5s. I spent hours on the crowded subway, stuffed into someone else’s sweaty armpit. In those moments when I wished I was anywhere-but-here, I found myself thinking of you, mentally planning menus or jumping off the subway to stroll through the Upper East Side groceries stores like they were museums.
I started to cook my way through our family cookbook on Sundays, our time together becoming a balm to combat the drudgery of my working week. I grew to know more about you, to be playful, experimental. After moving out of the city and planting my own garden, I gained a deep respect for you and the complex relationship between the labors and pleasures of eating.
Our relationship grew to fill my evenings and my weekends. I’d even nip off in the middle of a summer work day to pick berries, covering my fingers in the deep purple juice of wild blackberries. You were how I cared for sad friends, or introduced myself to new neighbors. You were how I celebrated and how I gathered my community.
But for some reason, your importance to me had still not sunk in. I felt like I needed to leave the kitchen and the garden, and grow up. If I wanted to build the communities I wanted to see in the world, I had to give you up, move to cities, read papers, study hard. How could I be a grown woman and affect change in the world if I was wearing a flour-dusted apron over dirt-stained knees? Who would take me seriously?
Luckily, you knew better. You waited patiently for me to find you down every road of inquiry. And I’m slowly coming to realize that you can be my answer… How I build my communities, how I connect people from different social groups or diminish my family’s fossil fuel use. You can be how I fight for equity and labor rights, how I explore history and culture. You can be my inspiration for invention and you can still be how I take care of the people I love.
Thank you for your patience, for waiting for me to figure out everything we can be together. For waiting patiently while I got over myself, my assumptions, expectations and prejudices.
I can’t wait to grow old together.
Michelle loves to help foster resilient communities through immersive research, emotionally connective data visualization and thoughtful branding. She’ll be using the Ei program to design her master’s in Design for Social Impact – she is interested not only in using her design chops for good, but specifically in how powerful design can be used to build forward-thinking communities – the kinds of communities that can prevent things like food insecurity, social injustice and inequality, and can survive calamity by supporting each other.