Recently, someone asked me what it is that I love about cooking. Anything that I do in the kitchen, whether it be cooking or baking is more then just what I produce. What I love about creating in the kitchen is that it connects me with people around the world. Although we may all do it in different ways, the one thing every culture in the world does is prepare food and eat it. Food and the preparation of it is something that enables us to come together as a global community and speak a common language. Even if one has never prepared a single dish or meal in their lives, they have eaten one.
The language of food transcends race, ethnicity, sex, sexuality, age, class. Food calls people into community. We create traditions using food. We celebrate events and holidays through food. We socialize around food. We comfort each other and ourselves with food.
The thing about food is that it does not need to be complicated. It does not have to cost a lot of money. It does not have to be complex to make. It does not have to require rare ingredients. It is an offering of one’s self, one’s culture, one’s experience of life with another.
When I am making challah, it brings me back to days in my grandmother’s kitchen when we would sit at the table, braid challah, and brush it with egg yolks in preparation for the Sabbath meal. There was something amazing at knowing that in Jewish homes around the world, others were preparing the same bread, as we were to share with their families.
Food is also humbling. While when watching one of the myriad of cooking shows on TV we are exposed to these gourmet kitchens with utensils galore and a diversity of tools at one’s disposal, none of this is absolutely necessary. Great food is prepared around the world in the most simplistic of kitchens. People around the world have created ways since the beginning of time to mix food, chop it, infuse flavor and spices into it, and cook or bake them to perfection.
The tastiest of ingredients, which should be a part of every dish, is one that costs nothing and that is love. Infusing your love can transform the simplest of ingredients into the most flavorful and amazing dish. One can always taste the attitude with which food was prepared. On those days when I have been tired, stressed, and not felt like cooking, it comes through somehow in my food. It is not one of those discernable ingredients; it is just something you taste at a very different level.
My Bubby used to say you could learn a lot about someone by what they eat. I think she was right. The food we put into our bodies is an extension of our personalities and our culture. It is what brings us together in good times and in bad. A friend of mine, when doing her doctoral research used home baked pies to get members of competing gangs to meet with her as a group. It was amazing how they bonded and laid down their hatred of each other over slices of sweet potato and pecan pies. Food is what we eat when we gather to grieve the loss of a loved one or to celebrate the birth of someone we love. Food is what we eat when we are celebrating holidays. Food opens up a world of possibilities. Imagine what the world would be like if attacking each other with weapons of mass destruction, world leaders sat down, shared a stuffed naan and a glass of iced tea, and talked about the importance of breaking bread together and world peace.