words Al Woods
Food is a noun in the sense that it is a “thing,” but it is also a noun because it is an idea in the abstract sense that all ideas are nouns. Food can simply be about eating certain items, but food is also something that can transcend time and space in the way that only ideas can.
Food is, therefore, an idea that is rich and malleable. And it is exactly that richness and malleability that gives it the power to transcend space and time. Food is a gift to those who examine it and its effects closely. It has a power that few tangible things do.
Relationships, though coveted and sought after, are not easy. They are not easy to enter into nor to maintain. Oftentimes when relationships are fraught or distant, it is a meal that allows people to come together in spite of the conflict and distance. Food requires that people let down their guards, at least a little because food lets people get lost in a way that lessens inhibitions and grievances. A good meal can equal an apology, a truce, a welcome and even a hug. Sharing a meal with a friend or a stranger means drawing closer, if only for the length of the meal. But even for that short period, a distance is crossed and people are drawn closer together. Food is relational.
Food has a unique ability to bring people together. Not simply drawing them by smells and sounds, but through the cultural and communal nature of food. Food can bring people in living close to one another in order to grieve or celebrate. But it can also signify community across space because food is cultural. A meal is a cultural connection because all food is rooted in a culture or a mix of cultures. So, food connects the cooks and the eaters to the communities in which the meals originated. There is kinship in food–close and distant. Food is communal.
The barriers that food can traverse are not simply social and spacial but also across time. The great recipes that families pass, the meals that cultures ate long ago, and the traditional meals unique to every family connect people across time. Generations are brought together because of food because the meals that were prepared long ago can be prepared in the here and now. Food connects the past to the present and the present to the past. Shared recipes and traditional meals are historical and keep what came before alive. Food is connecting.
Food is such a fundamental part of life that can make life richer and fuller and more vibrant in a simple and common way that makes these effects often go unnoticed. Food is about sustenance but it is also about culture, family and community. Food has a way of not just sustaining life but contributing to it as almost a conscious figure itself. It has the power to make distance shorter, foster connection and build relationships. Food is a gift.