Eating, across cultures, is one of the most sacred experiences that a group of people can share. We eat to celebrate new lives. We eat to mourn lives lost. We eat to remind ourselves that we’re alive. It’s central to many of our identities and it’s particularly special when the food is homemade. 

Sharing meals with my entire family on Sundays, as a kid, is one of my favorite memories. We’d all be starving because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and had most likely just gotten out of church. Some of us would sneak off to the closest liquor store or drive thru, but we knew to keep it hush. Most likely the night and morning before we’d all gotten together, our granny had prepared several dishes for each of us to enjoy. It was her way of showing us love and eating with her, as a family, was our way of returning it. 

Now, with COVID in full effect, these dinners have come to a screeching halt. Frankly, they had already been slowing down before, because my granny happened to be too. However, now that we’re forced to observe these restrictions as a matter of survival – and now that I’m thousands of miles away on another coast, I realized that I miss my family. I miss them for all the times we’ve eaten together, for all the times they grinded my last gear and all the times that they showed me an abundance of love.

So, in order to cope, I’ve started getting busy in the kitchen. Ya girl has a semi-budding business that’s literally sprung up overnight thanks to my mom’s sweet potato pie recipe and my roommates’ brainstorming nature. Sharing my love for people through cooking has been a truly rewarding experience – one I never thought I’d have, let alone enjoy. While I’ve always enjoyed the eating part of cooking, I never really gravitated towards the kitchen – for a number of reasons. 

  1. Because it was usually hot and extreme heat scared me
  2. The whole ‘women belong in the kitchen’ trope – I was ready to sock someone every time I heard it
  3. I was intimidated because the cooks in my family are COOKS, and I wasn’t ready to be measured against them yet

The heat fear came from my Dad trying to protect me, I’m assuming, by saying that the oven would burn me even if I wasn’t touching it. He’s a Pisces and can get pretty imaginative with descriptions. It was his ‘I don’t feel like going to the hospital’ that usually sealed the deal. I also saw how hard my granny worked, literally through sweat, to cook up these meals for us. She did it with a smile, but I knew she was exhausting herself and it made me feel a way. 

As far as the trope of ‘women belong in the kitchen’, I think I’d first heard it on TV. Thankfully, my dad’s old-school tendencies never went that far. My Dad was a stay-at-home Dad so he was always in the kitchen: making our breakfast, lunch and usually dinner. So, I didn’t really grow up seeing it outside of spending time with extended family, and even then I have uncles who can throw down. I guess it was just the idea of being limited to that role, that stereotype that scared me out of something that I think comes quite naturally to me. 

And then there was the intimidation. My family is from Texas on my mom’s side, some extended family is from Arkansas and my dad’s family is from Louisiana. We’ve been cooking-cooking for centuries. So, me deciding I wanted to join the party, wasn’t going to happen…until it did. It was in my last relationship while helping my ex prepare meals for his family and catering and seeing people’s reactions to him and his food that I remembered this was an excellent way to give and receive love. 

There were many moments where cooking with him took me back to being in the kitchen with my granny: helping her grate cheese, cut veggies or (my fave) lick the bowl. And, now that I’m “on my own” outside of my roommates (Hi K, T & eventual new roomie S), I’ve found myself wanting to connect with people in a safe but loving way. It’s brazy, but I’ve come to learn that I love cooking for people. It even still feels weird to say it, but it’s true. 

It all started over the holidays: making dinner for my roommate and a couple friends. Then, Christmas came and New Years came before I realized that I’d been cooking for my own enjoyment and that of the people around me. Learning and cooking my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes during these times has revealed to me that I value family more than I ever knew – to the point that I now know I want to have one – eventually. It’s been extremely eye-opening and I never would’ve guessed that recipes could have this power.

But that’s exactly what they are right? Powerful reminders of where we’ve been and where we’re going. With every shake of a seasoning, and every stir of a sauce, we’re reminded that our lineage dates back and that we come from a  long line of incredibly determined, brilliant, beautiful people who survived so that we could thrive. Learning their recipes has also reminded me of how selflessly my mother and grandmother made sacrifices – from sweating in the kitchen to going without so that we could have.

It’s a realization that I’m so grateful I had, because it’s informed how I want to move through this next chapter of my life – during COVID and after turning 30 this year. So if you’re looking to do a little self-discovery, start talking to your family if you can or the elders in your communities – at a distance or digitally. Their stories tell us who they are and who we can be, if we just stop to make the time. Social distancing, like recipes, has taught me to take the time. 

And, if we learn nothing else from this, I hope we learn to cherish time and each other in brand new ways.

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