Food is at the center of many of our concerns during this time of the coronavirus–how do we obtain food or get certain ingredients; where can we find workable recipes; how can we prepare nutritious and appealing meals over and over again, day in and day out. Many of us, though, don’t have the privilege of worrying about the quality of our food; many, for any variety of reasons, have to worry about the basics of getting enough food to survive. I want to acknowledge here those issues of inequality, and ask that we all do our part in assisting, both temporarily and for the long-run, in getting food to people who need it and in making our food system more sustainable for the environment and society in general.
The motto for the Center for Food and Culture is “nourishing connections—to food, through food.” The basic idea is that food can connect us to other people as well as to our pasts and places. That sense of connectedness can bring us comfort, helping us feel grounded and like we have a place in the world. The concept of “comfort food” is now a familiar one, but I encourage everyone to think beyond the usual idea of those being foods that are normally considered off-limits.
We should instead think of comfort foodways. The entire network of practices and activities around food and eating offer possibilities for connecting—as well as disconnecting. Shopping for food, finding room for it in a cupboard or refrigerator, maybe growing some produce, planning menus, preparing a dish, and cleaning up are all necessary chores, but each can offer opportunities for interactions with other people, for memories to be awoken, for our interconnectedness to be recognized.
The various aspects of foodways can be broken into three categories: product (recipes, meals, menus); processes (production, procurement, preservation, preparation, presentation, consumption, clean-up/disposal); and concepts/performance (contexts, symbolism, meanings). Each one of these parts is being challenged by the pandemic, and as with all systems, each part affects the others. Is it possible to take each of these parts to see how connections through it might be made or affirmed? Is it also possible to see how the “social distancing” necessary to keep us all healthy is also disrupting some of the connections that we had—connections that we now realize gave us a sense of comfort?
The Center for Food and Culture is documenting ways in which people are finding comfort through the connections that foodways can give. Participants can volunteer to be interviewed or respond to questions on the website. Interviews will be archived and used for an online exhibit. This project is partially funded by the Association for the Study of Food and Society and by the Ohio Humanities Council.
For more information, contact: Director, Lucymlong@gmail.com.
Also see: Michael Owen Jones and Lucy M. Long, eds. Comfort Food Meanings and Memories (Univ. of Mississppi Press, 2017)