On a date with her boyfriend, my old roommate Sarah once attended a cooking class. While the food was nothing spectacular, what made the evening worthwhile was that the woman leading the class was a food historian. From that moment on I’ve wondered on and off about how I could be just that. After all such a job would combine two of my greatest loves – food and history. Last year, I was able to write an obituary for a woman whose husband had been one of the premiere food historians. It was fascinating stuff. In researching the history of food, I’ve realized that what interests me the most is the history of the meal. For centuries, families have gathered together to break bread. We all have this in common but there are practices unique to each family.
I love china and crystal and formal dining, but I never want anyone to feel uncomfortable. I like to linger at a table for hours (when the chairs are comfy) and enjoy the company of others (when it’s not awkward). I like yummy food with courses and side dishes that complement each other. I want to chat about the ingredients and the recipes and find out what spices people can taste.
My husband would like to throw much of my china out the window or at least a good portion of the glasses. He groans when we eat dinner at the table as he would always prefer the couch. This is just a habit he’s developed in later years, as his family always ate meals together with everyone around a table. He often works very long days and he likes to unwind at dinner time and just switch off for a little while. I try to respect that, but I haven’t seen him all day! I just want to chat for a bit.
When I was a little girl spending the summer in Scotland, I remember my childhood best friend asking, “Is this the way you eat dinner in Pakistan?” My mother had placed all the dishes on the table as we ate family style. In my friend’s home, her mother plated dinner and put a place at each setting. This is the first time I was consciously aware that meals were such a personal thing.
In college some of the best conversations I ever had were over a meal. Some of the most memorable moments of my freshman year were spent with a group of girls all huddled around a round table scoping out men. I meet Sarah and Melody every week for breakfast where we spend time going through our weeks, talking about the hard things and the funny things. Sometimes I wonder if I ever do things with friends that don’t somehow have a food component.
I get excited to think about all the meals to come in our future. I think about holidays and epic family meals. Then, I think about the day to day. Before we had even had dinner tonight, I asked my husband what he wanted for breakfast tomorrow morning. Then, I rattled off a list of choices. Meals are important. They give our days structure and allow us to stop and spend time together. I think that’s what I really like most. Spending time together.