I’m starting off with the big picture here, so bear with me!

As a culture, we like to forget our dependencies, yet we still observe small reverences to the sacred act of eating food with another person: a first date usually means dinner, death or a birth signals the community to bring meals to the bereaved/new parents, and weddings are celebrated with multi-course reception.

Breaking bread in community is an illustration of our common physical weakness and our common spiritual weakness–our need of others. In some eastern cultures, this reality is honored by tradition, as a guest who breaks bread with his host is then treated as under the protection of the household. Food binds us together.

As food is intrinsically tied to place, to seasons (time), and our human dependencies, the need to make a meal becomes the catalyst for humans to be dependent on each other and tied to a physical place. Usually, the act of preparing and eating a meal draws you away from the computer and internal monologues, and forces you into the physical reality of your geographic location, your neighborhood, and your personal community.

Here’s an example of what I mean: last night, I made Korean Barbecue for dinner. Now, we live in a basement apartment and don’t have any place for a grill. The last time I tried to cook a steak indoors in my cast iron frying pan, the smoke detector serenaded us and everyone was grumpy (and I didn’t even burn anything). So this time, I planned ahead.

I made this based off of my grandmother’s recipe, substituting what I had in the house and adding this and that to balance the flavors. This recipe is one that her kids remember with great fondness, and she gave it to me in a recipe book she made up of family recipes (complete with stories prefacing most of them) for my twelfth birthday. And most recently, we made it in her honor at our family memorial dinner when she passed away in May.

This has to marinate overnight, and I hoped to grill it up for dinner on Sunday evening. Our pastor lives down the street from us, and he and his wife offered us the use of their grill anytime we needed it. So we headed down the street with tongs and the pan of meat, and chatted with this kind couple while the meat cooked. Kevin had a beer, and we met some of their family who was visiting.

When we got home, I stuck the steak in the warming drawer, and started cooking the rice and pot stickers while Kevin biked down to the grocery store for broccoli. While he was there, he ran into a new friend and her son, and they chatted and made plans for us to have them over for dinner one night.

When he got back, I finished cooking, and we sat down to eat. He took a picture of the food, posted it on Facebook, and later I ended up having a conversation with my younger brother about the recipe which turned into a good talk about life in general.

And Kevin and I had a lovely dinner together. Which turned into canoodling while watching Some Stupid TV Show.

And so, just making dinner together turned into a series of interactions with people in our community and families. Now, granted not every dinner is a conversation piece (I like mac ‘n’ cheese a lot), but it’s when your need for food drives you to interact with other people (even if it’s just the lady at the checkout in the grocery store or the waiter at the bistro…or fast food joint). You may not have much to talk about and it may be more of a transaction than an interaction. Yet it’s still an evidence that we can’t quite digitize our need for food and our need for community infrastructure.

Modern food methods and experiences tend to create either an imitation of a real community or family meal (restaurants!) or reduces food to a caricature of the real thing (frozen dinners, box mix desserts, Velveeta, margarine?!). It’s efficient for us and sometimes cheap, but the existence of these things and the cultural dominance of cheap, pre-prepared foods reflects a pivotal shift in our value system.

Another reflection of this shift is how we have ceased to use physical language (metaphors derived from nature) and are now dependent on mechanical or industrial metaphors for our linguistic rubrik. We develop things, we don’t grow them. We download or upload, instead of plant or store. I’m a productive worker, not someone with stamina. Try listening for this in your everyday language–our society has become industrial, rather than agricultural, and our language reflects that.

Similarly, the family and household has stopped being a place of creation and production, and has instead become a place where we consume products and store ourselves  and our stuff in between work days. Our lives have become defined by industrial efficiencies rather than natural cycles and relationships. We perform tasks in a process in our cubicles, we eat fast food, we relate over text and the internet. The value of our physical bodies is secondary to the worth of efficiency (which probably contributes to our national problem of poor body image and crippling physical self-consciousness).

I know we’ve heard our fair share of lectures about the detrimental effect on the family from not eating dinners together, but it’s worth reiterating: unless you take time to let yourself be human and hungry with other hungry humans, you isolate yourself and ignore the basic needs of body and soul to eat in community. We are a displaced and existentially challenged people for a reason: we have forgotten that we are mortals and we have sanitized human processes [ah-ha! mechanical language] until there is nothing human left about them.

(Which is why sex seems to be the most significant thing for our generation–it’s the last place we are able to be simply physical beings and need another person.)

And so, this is my apologetic for cooking and eating your own food: this process of mealtime is the most natural place for community to grow. You can have your slick blog community and guest posts and a thousand Twitter followers, but it will not feed your soul quite so well as eating spaghetti and garlic bread you made yourself with your spouse, family, or friends. This is coming from me, the introverted nerd who sometimes really dislikes people. You need community. I need community. Food is normal and good and somewhat of a social equalizer, and sharing food with people makes you belong somewhere real. Even if it’s Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese in your dorm room with your roommates.


I love to eat what I eat. My pleasure at the stove and table are sincere and coherent.
– “Learning How to Eat Like Julia Child” by Tamar Adler, New Yorker

Julia Child’s 100th birthday was yesterday, and this essay on learning to eat and love food is good.  I think about this a lot–what food means to us, what it should mean to us, how we use it, how we taste it, how we feel about it, what it means to relate to food as a human.

It’s frustrating to me to see people using food, instead of relating to it. “Eating is a chore,” says a friend, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say those words. This utilitarian, eat-because-I-have-to relationship with food is unhealthy at best, and is perhaps a reflection of more serious issues: displacement, non-identification with one’s physical self (someone help me find the right word for this?), and a lack of ability to savor life outside of the manufactured world of technology, efficiency, and production.

I would argue, even, that it is anti-Christian to have a merely utilitarian relationship to one’s food. I’ll write on this at greater length later, but if God incarnate as the man Jesus made such a point of instituting the sacrament of communion and said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood, food can never again be just something we put in our bodies (“fuel” says that horrible industrialist metaphor) to provide energy for our day. God has eaten with us and made the very act of eating together something that he not only identified with, but made a vital part of how we relate to him and each other.

Some topics I hope to work through on this topic include:

  • Physicality and eating
  • Incarnation and eating
  • Communion and eating
  • Creating and food
  • Tasting
  • Satisfaction/being made full
  • Place and food

Now, I don’t know if I’ll post separately on each of these, combine them together, or expand the list further, but this is something I’m passionate about and if I put the list up here, I’ll be more personally motivated to follow through with all of these topics.

Part of my interest in food is driven by my family’s culture–we have always gathered as a family for dinner, and my parents have always involved us in the preparation of meals and taught us to enjoy a wide variety of foods. We’ve had a garden for years, we’ve experimented with trying to make authentic dishes from other cultures, and we’ve always tried new things together. Various family members have had food allergies or intolerances, and so we’ve had to get creative to accommodate each other’s needs.

Our holiday traditions, as a whole, center around foods more than anything else, I think. My twin brothers were born in early May, and we’d go strawberry picking together and have fresh strawberry shortcake at the peak of strawberry season. Christmas eve was always a seafood dinner with artichokes. Christmas lunch would be tamales and pico de gallo, and dinner would be a full feast with ham. Thanksgiving saw us putting out the very Northern dishes of rutabaga and creamed spinach with nutmeg, as well as the Southern roasted sweet potatoes to accommodate the family traditions of both my mother’s family and my father’s. Our loyalty to our hometown in California dictates the type of oranges, lemons, olives, and steak salt rub we use. My grandma’s favorite spice cake recipe is the family standby for birthday cake.

My dad teaches us all how to use knives efficiently, how to read a recipe and be precise. My mom teaches us the chemistry of baking ingredients and what one can substitute for something in a pinch. My dad interacts with flavors like a painter with colors, mixing and adjusting until he hits on the right combination, and teaches us confidence to create variations on favorite recipes.

Food is a curiosity and a communal art for us, and so it’s been a bit amazing to me to leave home and discover that this is pretty unusual (in middle class America) today. Most people don’t know where their food comes from, don’t know how cook beyond following the directions of a recipe, and don’t have much of a personal relationship to food beyond silencing hunger and supplying energy. There’s no holistic ethos for why we eat and where and how.

I’m not a fan of ignoring physicality. So let’s talk about this: why do you eat?


Tomorrow Kevin and I regress into the “need” of having an internet connection at home. There’s a lot of good things that will come with this, but I’m trying to steel myself into Wendell Berry-esque curmudgeonry so I don’t forget the real life things that we value more than connectivity and entertainment or feeding our information addictions.

I’m not going to apologize for going AWOL for a bit. My real life has been rich and full. Writing stagnated while other things thrived.

Since I wrote last, we celebrated our first anniversary and dreamed big while spending a long weekend in the Shenandoah Valley. Kevin stopped temping irregularly and started working regularly as a waiter at a snazzy DC restaurant (everyone loves him–he’s great with customer service). We downsized to one car. He’s planning on starting school for music therapy in the fall. I got a UVA hoodie. I finally got around to reading Quivering Daughters (and highly recommend the first 2/3rds of it to anyone who grew up in a conservative Christian home where “courtship,” “gender roles,” and “homemaking” were buzzwords). Nearly the entire department I work in turned over and I’m adjusting to the new strategies and work styles. My dad called a family meeting and we had a Christmas miracle. Kevin and I flew to Oklahoma for my best friend’s wedding.  My sister came home from college and is taking charge of her life in healthy ways. We found a church we where feel comfortable and welcomed, and are seeking to get confirmed in the ACNA. Kevin wrote new songs. Old friendships were discovered to have life in them yet, and we started attending a monthly couples’ dinner club + Bible study with new friends.

[fullness]

In the meantime, I need to decide which of my blog post drafts from the last few months to finish first.  It’s never too late to post on Advent, right?


i remember learning to use a coffee maker for the first time
in oakland, when the sunrise was molten on the edges of the hills
and turned the kitchen floor into sun-puddles
and bacon was a special breakfast
my grandmother let me stand on tip-toe and pour the water in
it was cold through the glass of the carafe
and she smelled of unscented hand lotion as she reached around me
to program the brew.
i would marvel at the bacon snapping in its own juices
and at the burbling of the coffee maker
while we talked.

i remember learning that if my dad was grinding beans
for a second cup of coffee before he left for work
i could stand in the kitchen and tell him just about anything
and he would listen
until the timer went off and he pressed down the filter.
he would kiss my head when he walked out the door.
if he offered me a sip, i would taste the smell of it all day long.
it was his smell, sharp and warm,

i can’t decide if i drink coffee just to keep
tenderness and pictures like these close at hand
weapons against defeat and adulthood
or if i keep drinking it down, waiting to find
at the bottom of this cup
a friend
someone who smells like coffee too
who will talk in silence
and watch the light with me.