Shakespeare famously wrote that all the world’s a stage and that we are merely players on it. The stage analogy has never really worked for me - I think much of our lives, or the interesting parts at least, happen in the wings and not in the spotlight.
A better analogy, in my mind, is the mix tape. You know the kind - the ones that we of a certain age made for our friends, and at least occasionally for our crushes. Each song carefully selected for it’s coolness or cool obscurity, arranged by the shades of emotion or level of drama we wished to communicate. A mosaic, as it were, of our tastes and memories, with a wee bit of our pretention thrown in.
Fast forward around thirty years.
One of the hardest things about the pandemic was the monotony. After the initial flurry of “nesting” activity and as the anxiety of the unknown drifted into low-grade stress we all got bored. Whether we convinced ourselves we were going to master sourdough bread, do yoga everyday (for real this time!) or become fluent in Korean the days began to blend into each other. Our brains started to shrink much as our worlds shrank, hurried along by the dulling yet over-stimulating effects of too much screen time.
Even the introverts like me started freaking out a bit. Even if we didn’t feel starved for human contact as quickly as the extroverts we started to miss the experiences. No museums, no travel, no restaurants, no book stores – just walks around the block, Netflix, and trips to the grocery store in place of our lamented but not forgotten “real life”.
One of the things that became apparent to me, and perhaps to many others, is that while routine can be comfortable and productive, a variety of experiences are what make life truly bearable. And we need experiences to create memories.
I suspect there will be very few songs written about the drudgery of dragging ourselves the four feet from our desks to our couches to Netflix-binge a show about a crazy guy with a tiger feuding with an equally crazy woman. Our shrunken existences barely inspired memories, let alone poetry. We may have made some excellent meals in our pandemic kitchens, but we had few around with whom to share them. Ambiance? What’s that? Anticipation? For what?
Our lives are mosaics and mix tapes of our memories and experiences and our tastes in food are part of that. Everything we enjoy was once an new experience and how we came to discover and love certain foods is deeply tied to those first experiences.
I love South Asian food because my family lived across the street from a family from Pakistan for a year. I drink my coffee with milk and no sugar because that’s how the cute boy in my Grade 10 Latin class liked his coffee. I prefer peas directly from the pod because that’s how learned to eat them in my grandfather’s garden as a toddler. I can feel the cold cobblestones of a Brussels side street every time I taste chocolate with violets.
Watery hot chocolate from a mix smells and tastes like an afternoon of skiing and peppermint tea like a long night of studying. My ex-husband introduced me to Ethiopian food because he was introduced to it by his parents who met while living in east Africa and I’ll never eat injera without thinking of them. I toss my eggplant back in the marinade after grilling because a handsome guy made it like that while trying to woo me.
My banana bread and peanut butter cookie recipes come from the mom of one of my childhood friends and remind me of board games. Cheap bologna on white bread with butter and yellow mustard is will always be the ultimate beach sandwich. And the key to the best raw oyster is to douse it in limón-mandarina the way I had it in Costa Rica.
My tastes are a mosaic of the places, people, and experiences that influenced me and I’m betting yours are too.
So what does this all mean for our lives now, as many of us are now rebuilding “normal life”?
The most important thing we can do is to seek out new experiences and live them mindfully. Slow down and take the time to truly enjoy experiences and take snapshots with your mind, your hands, your nose, and your tastebuds. Add colours and textures and tastes and smells to both the everyday and to the special moments you want to remember forever.
Travel and eat the local specialties. Visit new restaurants, take picnics to the beach, meet up with friends and go to a tasting whether its wine, cheese, or chocolate. Try something new at your neighbour’s barbecue and get the recipe. And when you revisit your favourites or trigger an especially powerful memory, remind yourself of the experience that brought you to it - how did I come to like milk in my tea and where did that recipe for peach pie come from?
Your experiences are the mosaic of your life and they are what make you you. Don’t take your ability to make memories for granted - we’ve been there and we know how truly awful it is to lose it. Smell the coffee, soak in the memories and make your own mix tapes.
Fabulous article and now I'm remembering when and where I have memories of food experiences.
Food for thought!