A photo of my grandma letting me stick my hands in squishy food things. A normal day of being a toddler.
My love of food stems from my family not having much extra cash to blow. Any time I would come home, my grandmothers and aunt would ask me “what do you want to eat?” I thought this was just a functional task but it was a form of love that nourished me in more ways than one. Yes, I was fed and wasn’t hungry but I could taste the love in my favorite foods they would make. They never gave me expensive gifts, just the occasional $20 bill cleverly slipped into my pocket or hand without my parents seeing, but I never once doubted they loved me. Now with my paternal grandmother gone, I feel that hole in my heart. Her house is always considered home to me, even though I only lived there for the first year of my life. Even now, it feels a little sterile with just my Granddaddy there. When she was alive, something was always happening. It’s much calmer now but we can tell something is missing and none of us can fix it (we have been trying to varying degrees).
Since I’m technically an adult now, as a 23 year old, I’m finally fully understanding the relationships I grew up with.
I have a theory. I think people gravitate toward poor ethnic foods because you can taste the love in it. It feeds your soul and your stomach and that is something you will never get in a chain restaurant. In switching over to a plant based diet, I’ve been cooking more and my taste for chain food has significantly decreased. I don’t get the same taste for Chipotle or Chick Fil A as I had 6 months ago.
Side note: both of my grandmothers, my great aunt and Mom taught me how to cook. Both of my grandmothers are Southern and my great aunt lived in Rhode Island for a long time so her food is Southern with a multicultural twist. On the other hand is my mom. If you let her tell it, she cooks for survival. She uses the brown gravy from a packet, frozen meatballs, a bag of steamed vegetables from the freezer section and some egg noodles for dinner. But every now and then, she will make her Great Aunt’s mac n cheese and it’s heavenly. So yes, I do know how to cook for real. I always hate when dudes ask me if I can cook and then I remember that boy’s usually aren’t allowed in black kitchens and not everybody grew up around a southern Georgia grandmother.
Every time I cook, I think of my grandma and how I don’t want to die in a hospital without solutions or answers. I don’t want a team of doctors studying my charts, consulting with each other and still not know what is going on for a month. I don’t want to check my blood sugar or blood pressure daily. I don’t want to watch my children struggle with the same health issues I have. I don’t want to be on medications, I don’t want to have multiple strokes, I don’t want blood clots, I don’t want my children and grandchild to come visit me in a hospital because of surgery complications. I want to be healthy and happy because if I’m not healthy, nothing else matters.
Even when I go home to Daytona now, if I call my Auntie, she will ask me what I want to eat when I get there. It’s only an hour drive but she treats it like I only come home twice a year. One time, I came home from college and she made me a pot of oxtails and potatoes. When I got to my Grandma’s house, there was a separate margarine container (black grandmas keep all plastic containers, in case you weren’t aware) in the fridge with a piece of masking tape and my name was written on it. My aunt told me “you know I had to separate some for you or your cousins would have eaten all of them,” then she gave me a hug. I now understand the labor of love cooking is in my family, especially since my aunt doesn’t drive because it makes her nervous. She had to locate one of my cousins to take her to the store, buy the oxtails, clean and prepare them, cook them and then set some aside for me. While it might not be a big deal for her to cook, it greatly shaped how I view love and showing love. Buying me an expensive gift won’t ever amount to spending time and energy on me. I can order a brand new tv or nice watch from Amazon in a matter of 5 clicks on a computer or 5 taps on a phone screen. To invest time and energy into cooking or cleaning or running an errand I need to do or saying “I already took care of x, y and z” means infinitely more to me.