Gratitude and Food

There are very few things on this planet that make me happier than food. I wake up hungry and oftentimes begin eating before my eyes are fully open. My favorite meal of the day is whatever is currently on the table, but I maintain a strong opinion that ice cream should be available at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pizza is without a doubt the absolute best food on the planet, but I would never turn down a cupcake or a waffle. Aside from being delicious and providing us with the necessary sustenance to live, food has another remarkable quality. Food always reminds me of where I am, who I am with, and how much I have to be thankful for.

When I studied abroad in England, I found myself in a small British town with dreadful food.  My college’s cafeteria served cardboard and lard for most meals, so I was resigned to living off a healthy diet of the peanut butter and sour patch kids my best friend had mercifully sent overseas. After months of that nutritious diet, I returned home to the States for a meal prepared by my amazing chef of a mother.  As I ate third and fourth helpings of her white lasagna, I kept my eye on a white chocolate fudge cake she was saving for dessert. Food had never tasted so good.  And with every bite I was grateful to be home, grateful for my mom, and grateful for mozzarella cheese.  There is something about childhood recipes that seems to ground me in who I am and who I am supposed to be.  While eating a meal my mom had prepared for me hundreds of times, I was able to clearly see that my time outside London wasn’t about an excessive amount of toast eating, rather it was about falling in love with Shakespeare, learning to appreciate silence and obsessing over architecture. Food inspires gratitude by providing perspective.

Food also inspires gratitude by providing awareness. One night while visiting Tamale, Lamisi, one of our fabulous seamstresses, prepared dinner for us.  Groundnut soup with fresh goat meat and mum saap (rice balls). The soup itself had a great flavor; it tasted of a strange but delicious blend of tomatoes and peanut butter.  However goat was definitely not my ideal dinner considering there were goats walking around outside the house in which we were eating.  But Lamisi had cooked dinner as a way to say “thank you” for providing her with an employment opportunity, and as much as I loathed eating soup with my hands (groundnut soup is traditionally eaten by scooping up the broth with mum saap held in your hand), I had never been more grateful for a meal. In Ghana, there is a consistent pattern of people who have hardly anything giving freely of absolutely everything they have.  Meat is a precious commodity for families in Ghana; it is expensive and rare. Lamisi works tirelessly to feed her family, and she put a week’s worth of meat into a stew for us out of pure generosity. We were trying to help her, but she was helping us. As I ate the warm groundnut soup, I realized that some meals are meant to feed your soul rather than your stomach.

My Mammaw had a servant’s heart like Lamisi. She expressed her love through preparing food. On Thanksgiving, she would wake up while it was still dark out and start mixing, roasting, and baking the most decadent foods imaginable.  When she passed away, my aunts and mom divvied up the dishes that my sweet Mammaw had always prepared out of love for our family, but no one seemed to recall the recipe for her famous Jell-O Salad. The son-in-laws were the most upset; Mammaw had always made an extra tray just so my dad could have leftovers. The first Thanksgiving without her, people kept saying “Oh it’s just not the same with the Jell-O salad,” but that was simply because no one would verbalize the fact that it wasn’t the same without Mammaw. Years later, my aunt surprised everyone with the recently discovered Jell-O salad recipe, and while eating the sugary dish it felt for an instant almost like Mammaw was back with us. Food inspires gratitude for those who have loved us. It helps us to remember the good times of the past and move on with fuller hearts to love those still here.

So this Thanksgiving, we hope that you are able to enjoy the most amazing turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pie, but we also hope that your heart is filled with gratitude.  Ours certainly are. We are thankful for the places that we’ve been, the people that we’ve befriended, and the meals we have yet to share.

Happy Thanksgiving, to you and yours! 

Until next time,

Kelsey and Emily