It is not coincidental that, as my family has developed increasingly complicated food issues, I have taken more responsibility for preparing our food. There must be some sort of intricate equation I could use to figure out how to balance Lilah’s possible honey allergy with Benjamin’s difficulty with refined sugar, my distrust of manufactured sugar substitutes, J’s embrace of fad diets, and Zachary’s refusal to eat any vegetable not disguised as a carbohydrate. I am pretty sure the equation would include agave and walking backwards in a circle three times around a bubbling cauldron.
No, I will not make a separate portion for Lilah without nuts, eggs, garlic, onions, olive oil, or honey. No, I will not prepare a different meal for Zachary. No, I will not bake muffins Benjamin cannot eat. I am not a short-order cook. We need to be able to eat as a family. So, I make a spinach soup short on flavor because I leave out the really good stuff – all of which Lilah is allergic to. And I plop a loaf of bread on the table in hopes Zachary will eat that, despite the concern that the little bit of honey in it might pose a problem for little girl.
Food. Oh, my God, food. Food matters so fucking much. That’s why my stepmother was so effective. She knew how much food matters and she used it to control us. It wasn’t the beatings or the belittling. It was the rotten food and the starvation and the vomit-eating that destroyed us. She denied us the very basic nurturing that food provides because she knew that food matters.
Food matters because a huge portion of our ecological footprint comes from the way we get, prepare, and consume our food. Think about what you have eaten today. How many pesticides went into the soil and waterways to grow it? How many artificial chemicals and odors were manufactured? How far did it travel to get to you? And how much packaging did it require?
Food matters because it can build strong bodies and minds or it can rot people from the inside out. Why are there so many more cancers and attention deficit disorders and spectrum disorders? I don’t know, but I’ll bet a lot of it can be traced to food. Why does my Benjamin sport skin the texture of newly whipped butter? Because that kid puts a whole lot of good stuff into his body. He is walking testimony of the benefits of antioxidants.
Food matters because we are nurturing our children with it. Real food, grown from real plants matters. Meats from animals who themselves ate good things. I will not just throw something together because food matters. It is not a waste of time to spend hours each day thinking about food and preparing food. It is the business of life.
Do I wish I had a family without allergies or pickiness? Sure. But think about most traditional cultures. If there are not food-shortage problems, several different foods are usually incorporated into every meal. Because not everyone likes every kind of food, and if there are choices in the meal, people can pick and choose. Baking my own bread has certainly eased my relationship with Zachary. If the only thing he chooses from the family meal is the bread, at least it is freshly baked and packed with nutrition. And if Benjamin is in the mood only for the cheese the night we make bean burritos, so be it.
There is a meal on the table. Because food matters.