Tell Me Why Chips Aren’t a Meal

Just kidding. I know exactly why they aren't: because there is pitiful nutritional value.

As I round the end of my fourth decade on this good green-and-blue earth, I consider my relationship to food. For some of us, it's a mechanical process that is necessary by dint of our stomach rumbling and once we're done feeding the hole in our faces (I know, cynical isn't it?), it's over/finis(French!)/good riddance until the next hunger pains. For some, it's a comfort and chance for connection, an art form. 

I've had loved ones tell me that I eat like a ten-year-old, standing in my kitchen gnawing on snacks like a rabbit with no discerning taste aside from: is it edible or no? Back in January I wrote goals on my snazzy white board and one was to "find flow with food". Part of it is prioritizing and accepting that yes, I'll probably need to plan and even spend some time chopping/spicing/cooking/cleaning up if I want a decent meal. Even writing out those 4 separate tasks, it's astounding that people choose to do it at all. And that's even leaving out grocery shopping and spending money!

In case you can't already tell, I'm not knocking frozen meals and fast meals. There's a certain satisfaction to cracking open a pre-made meal that you know is literally only going to take 10 minutes to negotiate from beginning to end. But there's also the guilt, too. Like, sure okay I'll exercise, sleep the requisite 8 hours per night, monitor mental health, do yoga, etc. etc. and yet I'm feeding my face with Doritos and snack bars? 

One particular cookbook, Thug Kitchen, that I discovered amongst the other bajillion-trillion cookbooks that the library carries, stripped cooking of any foodie stuffiness and even drops cuss words throughout (which I deeply appreciate). Like, "Don't you want to give a f*** what you eat?" and "Americans are eating too much f***ing meat, so none of these recipes will have any."

In a lovely synchrony, I was able to take a staycation around the same time of this book discovery. Productivity in the traditional sense was absent and the focus was on solid sleep, food, cat time, and lounging. What I discovered was that most of the time, it's actually enjoyable to cook. There's something sensory and grounding about stepping into the process, chopping cilantro, focusing on the size of the garlic you're mincing, and taste-testing the dish along the way. 

Speaking of garlic. My grandma cooked everything with it. She was short, blunt, kind, and spoke in a mixture of Spanish and English. Her cooking was a thing of beauty. It was really hot, so spicy that I recall my dad sweating at his now-pink temples on Sundays, the day that the family gathered, grinning with masochistic satisfaction at the extreme heat. It was a good way to clear your sinuses.

All day, she simmered homemade spaghetti sauce and added rosemary at the end. Her patience with cooking was bottomless, and to a child's eye-fathomless. Nothing was rushed. She made her own tortillas from scratch too, kneading the dough, sprinkling flour to mold it into a perfect circle with her wooden rolling pin. As a child, I wanted my tortillas to look perfectly round like hers and would get frustrated when they came out looking like a misshapen bread roll. She would only say, "It takes time to learn. You'll get it. I've had a lot of practice."

She used her bare hands to turn the tortillas on the hot pan. She used real lard in all her dishes, Crisco, going through it so fast that she always kept a gigantic tin on top of her refrigerator.  As a kid, she was one of over a dozen children, and her role was to make tortillas in a family where everyone had a role to keep the household functioning smoothly.

Every Sunday, my grandma cooked like this for her six children and dozens of grandchildren in the home that my grandfather built in the 1940s in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unfortunately, we never wrote down her recipes. The very real and very dear hope is to eventually prioritize and put as much time, love, and effort into cooking as she did. It's not a waste to spend time on cooking, I tell myself when I waiver between cooking or not (FYI, I still tend to fall on the not-cooking side of the fence but establishing habits takes time, eh?). Nothing done with heart is a waste. 

Of course, everyone has different levels of capacity, time, energy, and money to cook. If you're a caregiver, you're struggling with mental/physical health, are low on funds, or just generally feeling poopy, cooking may not be on your radar whatsoever. The idea that we "should" or could all eat healthy food was called into question awhile ago with the food justice movement and its recognition that for any number of reasons, some people frankly lack access to this most basic of needs: healthy food. 

Our Information Services team prints out paper copies of where to go for daily free meals. We also have a section in our Resource Guide under "Food-Financial Assistance" and "Food-Pantries + Free Meals". Paper copies are available on the table by the entrance. Or, come visit us at the Ask Desk and we'll get you a copy!

If you're interested in a library event related to food, on September 24th, we're holding a Harvest Potluck and Story Swap.

-Theresa Bird is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.