For most of us, food is not just fodder to get us through the day – it touches us emotionally, culturally… personally.
We see this special connection when we gather family and friends for holiday meals. But it’s often in the worst of times that our deep relationship to food reveals itself most powerfully. In August, for example, after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, the sure signs of people’s resilience came not only from the sound of power tools, but also from the aromas of barbeque wafting across a neighborhood, or a big pot of shrimp gumbo simmering on a butane burner set up on a street corner and dished out free to anyone who needed or wanted some.
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As New York Times reporter Kim Severson wrote about flooded-out Houstonians: “No matter what, cooks are going to cook.” After the hurricane, 134,000 homes in the 10-county area around the Bayou City were destroyed or swamped with muck and polluted water. “The emotional and cultural impact,” Severson wrote, “is most keenly felt at mealtimes. The kitchen is the heartbeat of a home, and by extension, of a community.”
So, despite the obstacles, Houstonians cooked – improvising with ice chests, hot plates, and crockpots – to create “kitchens” in second-floor bedrooms, outdoor decks, or any dry spots they could find. She wrote about 70-year-old Al Marcus. Four feet of bayou water destroyed his kitchen, yet only days later, he had fired up his backyard smoker and cooked 140 pounds of brisket to provide sustenance and a serving of normalcy to the families and volunteers who were stripping waterlogged sheetrock from storm-damaged homes.
“What else am I going to do?” Al asked.
That’s the true nature of food. Not just another consumer commodity, food is us – socially as well as biologically.