The other night I sat on the porch pitting cherries with my son Ellis. My daughter Gwyn and her friends surrounded us, sharing stories from school and writing notes to boys they would never actually share.
I taught my son different ways to pit a cherry, but we both found that using our fingers worked best. For him, it was a treat to squirt juice at the girls. Sometimes he would toss the stems and pits into the cherry bowl and the cherry into the pit bowl. In the end, we didn’t quite have it sorted out as some of us found pits in our cobbler.
I learned this practice from spending summers with my grandmother as she and my aunts would sit in the backyard shucking corn, pitting cherries, and prepping pole beans.
Meal preparation is such a huge part of my parenting. From morning pancakes with eggs to holiday pies, fresh salads to school lunches. It’s important to me that my kids know their way around the kitchen, and not just for life skills.
I want them to know that food is the center of our lives. Not just to provide us energy for the day, but as a part of our culture, our past, and our traditions. Around the world food has a religious importance, is part of story telling, and is thought to be a gift from the earth or gods. Food makes us strong, and handsome, and gives us long lives. The most primitive cultures on earth know this, but our Western minds have neglected this notion for some time.
In fact, it’s often felt that our culture can do nothing but reduce food to particles that which we can’t even see. Our meals become a numbers game and we forget entirely what an enjoyable time meals can be from start to finish. We forget to respect where our food came from and the people who produced it—or that we are capable of growing food ourselves.
We neglect the time-honored traditions passed down from our ancestors. Those worn recipe cards sitting on shelves in our grandmother’s pantry that have moved through a generation of hands.
As a parent I struggle between what I know is right about food and what we are being taught in our modern world. I do not want my children to pick up items and ramble off how many calories and grams of fat are listed on a label. Or refer to their friends as carboholics or worry that they’ve become sugar addicts.
But they do.
I do not want them to think about getting enough protein or vegetables. I do not want to them feel concerned with foods that make them fat.
But they do. Because they speak the language that they hear. From me, from the media, from their friends.
And it’s painful. But I will change it.
I want them to understand what food means to us as a family. How it brings us together, gives us those teaching moments, those times of splendor and of healing. I want them to know what my grandmother taught me and learned from her mother. I want them to experience the traditions my mother created, and to feel that food is a part of who we are so they can share this with their families when they are grown.
For that, I am taking back my table. I will no longer play part in the calculations game. Food will not be simply particles that make up a whole once I add them together.
Food will share the same importance in my house as bedtime stories, nights under the stars, and wiping tears away. Memories etched in our table surround us each time we sit. As we pass dishes, butter bread, and pour tea we feel secure together and nothing else matters in the world more than filling our bellies and our hearts. The day’s stress washes away, the evening news shuts off, and for those 30 minutes stories are shared and lessons are taught.
For families that spend the day apart, food brings you together. Don’t rob yourself of this time because it will vanish before you can blink. So I encourage you, as spouses and parents, to take back your table. Bring back food in the traditional sense. Food that is the common bond in your home, among friends, and is a part of your heritage.
Give yourself that small peace of mind. With all the uncertainty that surrounds us, nothing gives us a sense of hope more than the family meal.