“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” -James Beard
My first memory of cooking was when I was about five years old. My family was gathered around a small table in our dining room, folding and creating burekas, a coveted family recipe. It was a rite of passage in my family to make these burekas, and once you knew the secret, you were golden. Seriously, these little pastries are equivalent to gold in my family. At every Hanukkah party, three pans of these would be gone in three seconds.
But it wasn’t the delicious smell of the burekas that I remember, it was the feeling of family as we all sat around this table, united by this one little dish, talking and laughing as a whole. That is where I found my love of cooking. I loved the sense of community and happiness it brings to a group of people.
I have grown up in a Jewish household of Mediterranean roots, so Sephardic cooking is popular and frequent. Lots of onions, lots of spices, and lots of talking. If I were to describe a family event, it would be loud and filled with way more food than feels necessary. But, it is a sin if you don’t have enough food. That is the major rule in the family: you never run out of food at a family function or else people will be talking about you on the car ride home.
I bring this story up because recently I have stumbled upon a wonderful website called “Smitten Kitchen,” and started making the Israeli food of my ancestors. The smells brought nostalgia and the tedious peeling of chickpeas was worth it once the homemade hummus was done. Savory shakshuka with sweet Israeli salad was enough to make my dad say, “my grandma would be so proud.” That compliment made me want to reflect on this hobby and dive into the reason why I love food so much, and I realized it was because of my family.
But it’s not just family that is brought together over food, it is any person despite race, religion, gender, etc. When I meet someone for the first time, the one thing we can talk about for hours on end is food. I am a restaurant dictionary, and can usually connect with any person in Seattle on our glorious restaurant scene. My coworker and I talked about ice cream places in Seattle for about 45 minutes despite the cold March air outside.
People love food, and people love talking about food, so why have we been so obsessed in a world where commercial diets and processed food dominate?
My mom and I were recently at a small bakery near my house where we approached this subject. I told her that people would be so much healthier if we just ate real food instead of processed. Real tomato sauce is so much easier and healthier then just some jar of Prego. This sparked a humorous quote on my part:
“I like my friends like I like my food, real.” No fake food, no fake friends is a good mantra to live by.
But this is true. Real food tastes better and often a homemade meal unites a family more than takeout. Now I realize that time and resources may prevent this sometimes, but I sometimes think this is why my family is so close. We make a point of eating together a few times a week.
Food and cooking shouldn’t be a burden, it should be enlightening. I challenge every one of you to start cooking yourself at least one meal once a week. It may be daunting but it will make a huge difference in your life. Also, food is healing. Trust me, I have had my fair share of possession with calories and healthy eating, but I have come to realize that if I eat real food that my body craves, my mental and physical health greatly improves.
Food is something that unites us all and is a friend in a time of need. So make a dish and bring it to your neighbor, research a crazy meal to make for your friends or family, or try to make a family recipe. Food is love, and we all know that love makes the world go round.
Go forth and cook!