Food is personal, and our experiences diverse, yet there is something universal about what makes our experiences with food so powerful. Our experiences with food have the potential to shape not only our own relationship to ourselves, but much more. It shapes our ideas about reward and punishment, scarcity and abundance, work and play, status, what is valuable and unimportant, dislikes and favorites, treats and the “ordinary”, the have’s and have not’s.
Discovering your own food story has the potential to help you grow through unlocking a great depth of understanding about yourself by identifying how food has shaped your own ideas. With understanding comes healing, appreciation, forgiveness and respect, and sometimes change. Our hope is that throughout this process, you will find what you most need at this point in your life, and that it prompts positive change in your relationship with yourself, others and food.
So what is a food story? A food story is the collection of memories, experiences, preferences, recipes, traditions and rituals that you associate with food. Our early childhood experiences with food and flavour can play a significant part in what food traditions and tastes we carry with us into adulthood. For many of us, food involves positive feelings like joy and happiness, but this is not necessarily universal. For some, food can be associated with uncomfortable feelings and memories, or there are a combination of mixed feelings and emotions that we have when reflecting on our relationship with food. All experiences make an impact in shaping who we are.
This might not be something that you can do in a weekend, this may take a lot longer, as you start to unravel and explore how it all began and its impact on you now. Here’s how to start:
- Take a fresh notebook and record some of your childhood memories where food was central to the memory. Note down what you experienced, what you felt and who was there.
- Identify who were important people that influenced your ideas and experiences about food. This may not have been our parents, but instead, our grandparents, or a sibling, a friend or neighbour.
- Collect the recipes that featured in these memories and experiences, or were passed on from these special people that influenced your ideas and experiences. You may also want to add photos or images, if you have them, of those experiences involving the recipes.
- Write down all the traditions that involved food in your home as you grew up, and what traditions you have now. This may involve things that were just “every day” traditions, like sitting at the table for the evening meal, or may refer to birthdays, special events, reunions, seasonal celebrations and holidays.
- Review everything you have collected and recorded, and consider what has become evident to you about yourself and your relationship with others, through the lens of food. Remember that its not just the positive experiences, but also the difficult, or less than ideal circumstances that shape and influence our ideas and values.
- Review what has become the most important to you throughout this process. What is important to preserve, create, gather and share about your own food story?
- Note down anything that you would like to start doing differently as a result of what you have learnt about your experiences and memories. This might be simply starting to turn devices off when you eat your evening meal together, or cooking a particular dish on a relative’s birthday who is no longer with us.
Engaging in this experience will be a process, and perhaps, there may be some unexpected discoveries about your loved ones, relatives, friends or those around you, including yourself. Don’t be scared to tackle difficult feelings as you start to work through your experiences and memories. Talk to someone about what you feel, write those things down if you need to. Great learning and self-awareness can come about through this exercise. Understanding our relationship with food is central to appreciating who we are, and can create a depth of empathy for those around us, leading to meaningful connections with others.