Unless your family runs, say, a famous fried chicken franchise and you bring dinner home every night, you may have noticed that families have become funny about food. Read that, complicated.
Beyond the endless menu debates, lurk the stories. What we eat and when and why…
I had a vivid reminder of this yesterday when I was flipping through the day’s batch of nap mail, also known as catalogs. One that was new to me came from somewhere on the West coast and was chock full of “raw, healthy, natural” foods common to that region.
In addition to nuts and fish, there were pages of berries. Dried berries. Frozen berries. Good for you berries.
And, much to my amazement, gooseberries.
I’ve never eaten a gooseberry. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. They are, however, part of the essential oral history on my dad’s side of the family.
It seems they grew on the farm in Indiana. My Gramma Elsie baked gooseberry pies when they were in season.
Grandpa Frank, whom I never knew, was, as the story goes, not a fan of sweets.
Elsie, who raised six kids, two orphaned nephews, and enough yard birds to send some of those kids to college, plus the vegetables to feed them all, baked pies when the gooseberries were in season.
Apparently, every time she baked a gooseberry pie, Frank would say, “Nice pie, Else. A little too much sugar.”
Now, in order to follow this story you need to know that my sweet, quilt making, Baptist grandmother had a mind of her own and more that a bit of a sense of humor.
You also need to know that gooseberries are, according to those in the know, apparently rather tart.
One day, Elsie baked a gooseberry pie with no sugar.
Frank, as the story goes, took a couple of bites and, with his face all puckered up, barely able to talk, said — as he always did — “Nice pie, Else. A little too much sugar!”
Now, I must have learned this story along with those of Cinderella and Sally, Dick, and Jane. And there it was, in one big memory chunk, right inside my head when I read that somebody in Washington state was trying to sell me gooseberries.
I suppose you’re wondering what possessed me to tell you this story.
It’s really pretty simple. We all have stories about food.
What “we” eat. What “we” don’t eat.
Some of those stories are sacred family myths.
Some of them are sneaky marketing campaigns. Kind of like whichever kind of cranberry sauce your family eats for Thanksgiving, if you happen to live in the US. Or why you’d never eaten green bean casserole until you spent your first Thanksgiving in Scotland among friends who weren’t raised vegetarians.
It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong.
It’s about vested interest and what really works. I mean, you’ve got to admit that it’s highly possible that the canned green bean people and the folks known for red and white cans of soup got together one night, tossed back a couple of martinis and — Bam! — “everybody” ate green bean casserole for Thanksgiving. I know my mom’s family did. (And I will admit to being hooked on the crunchy onion things on the top!)
But, to borrow back last year’s word… maybe we could be more intentional about food.
Not everybody will agree on the menu but maybe we could agree on trying to get what we need, even though that will probably not ever be the same for all of us. (Though leaving out GMO’s would probably be pretty universal!)
And, when it’s all said and done, perhaps it’s the relationships that matter more in the moment. With our families, of course, but also with the world we live in.
I’m working on approaching food with gratitude. (More to come…) Gratitude for local farmers and bone broth in the freezer and pasture raised eggs in the Instant Pot. Tomorrow, deviled eggs with wild salmon caviar. And no sugar at all!