I come from a long line of women who had an adversarial relationship with food. My Mom learned how to cook from her Mom, who cooked for a man with an ulcer. My father’s mother never learned how to cook. Her Mom married a wealthy man, who thought it was beneath him to have a wife who cooked. My father’s Dad thought the same thing. They didn’t quite make enough money for a maid who cooked, but they did make enough money to eat out. For every meal.
My Mom only really cooked when company came over. She had a few recipes that she would trot out, like prize winning horses. There was chicken rosemary, and steak Diane, and Italian braised beef. It was tasty, but belied the reality of our everyday existence. Cold cereal for breakfast. A plain sandwich on white bread for lunch. Bland, brown meals at supper.
Nothing was ever fresh. Nothing was ever from scratch. Cooking was something you did, like a duty. Perhaps she thought the same about cooking that she did about sex. She told me that sex was a wife’s duty. It was once a week, like clockwork. No spontaneity, no fun, and no love. Not really. Food was the same way.
If we are what we eat, then what are we if what we eat isn’t that much? I’m not talking about quantity, but quality. Eating wasn’t ever fun in my house when I was growing up. We ate at the dinner table, but it was a quiet affair. Well, quiet except for my father’s loud slurping. He ate greedily and ravenously. It wasn’t out of a love for food. It was about eating quickly and piggishly. If I didn’t eat fast enough he would start to eye my food and ask if I was done yet. He wanted what was on my plate. He’d had a full serving and wanted more. He was willing to try to take away my nourishment to feed his insatiable appetite.
He was like that with a lot of things. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. He drank coffee nonstop. He ate whatever and whenever, without regard to actual hunger. He ate out of an addiction. What he was hungry for wasn’t to be found on a plate, but he didn’t know that. I didn’t know it either. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have the words for it then.
When our grandmother (his mother) would send Christmas money, he would expect my Mom to give him her share. We each got separate checks from her. He never asked me for my check. I guess he thought asking me for my food was enough.
Food is life. We have to eat to live. But not only in what we eat but how we eat are we shaped. Every cell of our body is composed of the minerals and vitamins that are in the food we eat. So if you eat better food, you are improving your body cell by cell.
I realized this while I was baking banana bread today. I make it every week now. It is part of our breakfast nourishment at our house. Instead of eating a banana each, we eat a slice of banana bread. This works out better for many reasons. A whole banana is just too much sugar. I always felt a little spacey after eating one, but there isn’t a good way of saving half a banana. Having a slice of banana bread does the trick nicely. Plus, we are saving money. One loaf of banana bread uses four bananas, and lasts us a week. If we both eat a banana a day for a week, that is fourteen bananas. Flour is cheap. Bananas aren’t.
Somehow in the middle of my mixing and blending today, I decided to dedicate this loaf to my grandmothers. I decided to heal them, through me. I decided that the legacy of being afraid of cooking, of thinking it is something only poor people do, is gone.