BY Brittany Watts-Hendrix
My mother finds solace in food. For her, pork chops, polish boys, macaroni and cheese, ribs, chicken wings, and french fries, act as the tool for avoiding risks, feelings of loneliness, and secure dependability. This predictable food she has been eating her entire life, gives her a sense of constant familiarity.
My mother comes from a household that values independence, and frowns upon emotional dialogue. This means, regardless of the situation, my mother could not rely on anyone in the house to help her. She was always alone in figuring out her own way, whether it was learning to braid her hair, or trouble with her peers at the predominately white high-school she attended. Still, she could depend on greens and southern style ribs for dinner. Later, my aunt coerced her into going to a night club, where she found her way into an untrustworthy relationship-turned-marriage. Currently living with her husband, not knowing if he will provide bill money for that month, I would assume, only adds to her stress. However, like always, she has food. When frustrated, she resorts to preparing for herself, the same meals that comforted her as a child, when no one else would. She is faithfully rigid in her eating habits – homemade hamburgers with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. She would not even try a new slice of cheese, if she did not have it as a child or teen. Her unwillingness to try new foods represents a source of reliability she finds in eating only what she knows. She makes tacos only with Old El Paso, the seasoning brand that my grandmother used. The same food that she has now – meatloaf made with ground beef, black pepper, pre-cut green peppers, two eggs, ketchup, pre-cut onions, and a bit of salt – she also had when she was younger. Perhaps, that food creates a bridge where she can offer herself structures of reliability during a time when no other consistency, but food, was available to her as a child. Presently, with merely eating the food she knows, there is little to no risk of being disappointed.
I believe that my mother experiences a certain safety in knowing that, in seeking the cuisine she habitually partakes in – macaroni and cheese, for instance, made with shredded cheddar, provolone, and American cheese, milk, pepper, barilla elbows, butter, and two eggs – she will always find others like her, who are content with settling. With this, she will rarely ever have to face the possibility of finding herself in a position of being surrounded by people who do not understand her. For my mother, the lack of variety in the foods she consumes, tuna sandwiches, lays potato chips, and a pickle, supplies her with a particular level of certainty of rarely ever having to feel lonely.
My mother has developed a familiarity in what she consumes. The loyalty of the meals, such as the Hormel canned hash, supersedes people. For instance, if my mother ever found herself lonely, due to her parents’ emotional illiteracy, or for any other reason, she could easily retreat to polish boys, pork-chops, macaroni and cheese, or a variety of fast food restaurants. She can depend on food to shelter her when the world is cold, or isolating. This familiarity of her routine meals, of Edy’s butter pecan ice cream, works as a kind of close friend who is there to help her feel comfortable and safe, should she ever be faced with adversity.
Often, we think of food solely as nourishment, as a bare necessity. However, for many of us, like my mother, food is the result of a certain hunger. These hungers are evidently deeper than biological upkeep. What we eat, what we crave, the centrality of hunger, speaks not only to who we are. What we eat expresses our demons – our truths – and how we cope with them. In the case of my mother, she feeds her demons, so they stick around and keep her company.