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italy! 2007 010

The wise ones, self-proclaimed

and otherwise,

extol the gems

we’ll find tucked in the jagged places

of our lives.

 

They profess the riches we will

meet spelunking

in caliginous caves

of personal pain and diving the deepest

wells of our grief.

 

Starting with a broken heart

makes the trek

more meaningful,

the sages say, as if they know

we will not break

 

from anguish of the broken world

we darkly dwell

in every day,

but find, instead, an unobstructed oculus

to light the way.

mick-haupt-pOEY_iRFg60-unsplash

I’m thinking about food. This is nothing new. I have always spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about food. Historically, my food-centric thoughts include grocery shopping lists, menu planning for weekend meals or special occasions, inventing recipes for more delicious versions of various things, anticipating upcoming restaurant or vacation meals, and remembering especially scrumptious things I’ve eaten in the past.

I can admit that there is a part of me that is pretty food obsessed and I don’t believe I’m alone. Eating is a basic survival need and carries a heavy cultural weight. Many people have varying degrees of food-focused thoughts and feelings every day. Fortunately, I’ve mostly enjoyed my relationship to food. I love to cook and bake. Feeding people nourishing and delicious meals has been a source of great joy for my entire adult life. (Take my word on it; you want me at your pot luck!) And I have happily entertained myself for hours by reading cookbooks, watching food related video, and simply thinking about food in various ways.

But during this time of the coronavirus global pandemic, I’ve become aware of a painful shift in my thoughts and feeling about food. I know that there are large swaths of the population that live with food insecurity every day and that for many the fear is real, but for the first time in my life I’m feeling afraid that I will not have the food that I need. These fearful thoughts are profligate in my mind these days.

I know that this fear is not based in today’s reality for me. My larders are stocked. My freezer is full. I have more than I need and yet I can feel a panicked part of me that believes I can’t survive without everything I want. That part cannot seem to stop thinking about how to get continued access to fresh greens without going to a grocery store. These thoughts are often followed closely by a wave of shame. Shame that I, as a privileged, working, home-owning person with a fully stocked fridge and resources to purchase more, is feeling fear about not having enough food. I hope that by sharing my experience and what I’m learning about it, that I might help anyone who can relate.

Growing up, my mother’s day to day meal offerings were generally based on a combination of cost and calories. She was always on a diet so anything considered fattening was only for special occasions or company. Most name brand food items were considered too expensive so we either went without or ate the discounted brand. I was too regularly served food that was totally unappealing to me. Sadly, I spent many an hour at the kitchen table in front of a slice of dry meatloaf or a pile of canned peas until I cleaned my plate because, “There are starving children in China.”

But then there were holidays and company. My mother would cook and bake an incredible array of special treats for the extended family. I looked forward to potato latkes at Hanukkah and macaroons at Passover and a whole meal of my choice on my birthday. I watched her prepare fancy dinner parties for friends where she served spectacular food that was never offered to me but it piqued my interest in cooking. I went to the grocery store with the paycheck from my first job and bought fresh broccoli and ingredients to make cheese sauce and chocolate chip cookies.

When I began to cook and bake for myself, especially once I had children of my own, food became a point of connection between my mother and me. I came to understand she had her own obsessive thoughts about food and we bonded over menu planning and cooking magazines. For the rest of her life we spent many pleasant visits conversing about and sharing food. In her last years, as dementia made her world smaller and smaller, food was the only thing she could really talk about. A few days before she died she said, “You know I’m really sick when I’m not interested in food.”

My mother was born in 1933, the last year of the depression era. Her mother escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe at the age of 13, traveling alone to the United States. My grandmother’s mother lived in fear and poverty in a Jewish Shtetl somewhere near the Russian border. Generations and generations of Jews, my ancestors, lived under varying degrees of oppression and it’s not a stretch to imagine that real food insecurity was a part of daily life.

I am coming to understand that the food insecurity that I am experiencing at this time is related to my childhood experiences around food and also a legacy burden that I carry from my mother. And her mother before her and likely every generation back to biblical times. There is no need for me to feel shame about it. In traumatic times, childhood and ancestral traumas are often re-stimulated.

And make no mistake, these are traumatic times. Even if you are currently safe and have resources, this is an unprecedented time in terms of dealing with such a huge, worldwide unknown. Now, more than ever, we are being called to self-compassion. We are being called to connect with and support each other. We are being called to explore our own inner landscapes and walk that ground with reverence.

Here is my fervent wish for us all: May all beings be safe; may all beings be healthy; may all beings have ease; may all beings have food.

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