An inquiry into food and hunger, through writing

“Eat bread and understand comfort.

Drink water, and understand delight…” (Mary Oliver, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass)

Our relationship with food can reveal something about who we are, where we’ve been, or where we hope to head in the future; how we respond to hunger and our needs for nourishment, both individually and collectively as a culture.

Severalfamilymealtimes weekends ago, I attended a workshop for the first time at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, on the Oregon Coast. What a peaceful, scenic campus, set back in the hollow of an old growth forest. From their website: “By helping others discover more about their core creative selves and their connections to nature, the Sitka Center works to fulfill its mission of expanding the relationships between art, nature and humanity.”

The workshop I attended was on Sustenance and Food Writing; together, we explored published work by various authors, as well as past and current experiences with food, well-loved recipes, family mealtimes, and food-related travels. My fellow writers came from all walks of life but shared a passion for food, along with an equally thoughtful, poignant collection of their own work on this topic.

Over the course of that weekend, I was surprised by how many emotionally-laden memories emerged from my life: the significant childhood events , which took place over a meal; how some family members have conveyed love or acceptance through food; and the inter-generational transmission of food and gardening traditions.  Among other pieces, I wrote a poem about sneaking honey-covered crackers during a past meditation retreat; a short essay about how my grandfather’s working class, Jewish values were shared over meals; and a humorous letter to my future adult daughter, to be read over a glass of wine, about what kind of cook – and woman – I hope she will grow up to become.

Consider going on your own self-initiated “retreat” or process of inquiry in the future, even for a few short hours at a time, to ponder the following questions:

What is your history of food? What foods were most celebrated, special, or forbidden? What were mealtimes like, in your family? What are they like, now? Who taught you what you know about food? Finally, what have you been taught about acknowledging and feeding hunger in its various forms (especially physically and emotionally), and how well do those messages serve you today?