Food is wonderfully nostalgic.
The tiniest whiff of gumbo file makes me think of my mom, and the smell of an omelet sizzling in the morning reminds me of dad. The aroma of turkey and stuffing? I’m immediately transported to Thanksgiving feasts throughout my life.But sometimes we hunger not for the familiar, but the exotic. Something different. Variety. It's fascinating to remember that much of our human history was motivated by food – the attempt to get enough, sure, but also over spices. Salt –and certain other spices-- helped preserve food, but they also made it taste better, more interesting, more intriguing.Many years ago a "sound man" told me about a film project he’d worked on with a rebel group in Central America, back in the 1980s when that region was rife with war. He believed in the cause and spoke about it passionately, but what I remember most was his description of eating the same thing, day in, day out, for every meal (Imagine the following told in a darling half-British, half-Spanish accent):
“We were hiding in the mountains for weeks at a time, eating nothing but black beans and rice -- no onions, no chile, nothing to spice it up." "It’ll keep you alive, but boy… It kills the spirit. One day I found a small patch of wild chives growing in the jungle." "I kept them to myself, hoarding them as though I were a miser with gold. I never thought of myself as a stingy man, but I cut up a tiny bit at each mealtime, hiding at the edge of camp from my companions, and used them to spice up the beans. Just the tiniest taste of something different, some variety, kept me from going insane. I don’t know how the others did it – they were much tougher than I.”Recently I asked the Indian man at the copy shop what he liked most about this country and he told me that Ethiopian and Thai food were his favorites, though he was developing a taste for Mexican as well.
Mind you, I didn’t ask him about food.
But this is common when speaking with immigrants. They often are amazed at the food in this country, not only its plenty, but its variety.
And this is what harvest festivals celebrated: the joy of a full belly, and the ability to eat lots of different kinds of things.
Enough really isn't enough. We’re animals. Eating is a base instinct. Compelling in a way only a primal urge can be. And as humans, we crave the variety to keep our palates interested, happy, content.
I feel a metaphor for life coming on...