Family Traditions in Everyday Food

My mom loves traditions. Humorously enough, though, she seems to only really acknowledge traditions that have not yet been done or are based on the idea that we did it once before. In other words, she has a desire to have big, fancy traditions that are pre-determined before we’ve even tried them. Usually, this seems to backfire and our “new tradition” is only done once, at a big holiday, one year. The traditions that I think we have are ones that speak to the priorities of my parents and have come more naturally as the result of regularity and routine. It may not be glitzy and impressive, but I’m quite fond of them.

Me and my mom in 2008

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about food as I prepare it. Not just what to do next or how to chop a vegetable to suit the meal well, but about how the nutritional information I’m learning collides with everyday realities and routines. I’ve found myself thinking fondly of how my mom is absolutely enamored of “big salads” – to the point that we have funny stories and happy memories around my mom’s love of a massive salad; thinking of how growing up, I was mostly vegetarian and thus turkey was never something I really got excited about for Thanksgiving – I didn’t eat it – but I’m quite sure that regardless of where I might be eating for Thanksgiving, I will always be sure to have our family’s “sweet potatoes”. I put that in quotations, because most often we’ve been eating yams, not actually sweet potatoes. Anywho, it’s a mix of mashed sweet potatoes with some fresh squeezed orange juice and zest, baked with marshmallows on top. My brother or I always had the honors of covering it with the big, fat, fluffy marshmallows.

Our first formally turkey-free Thanksgiving was this past fall: note the sweet potatoes! 🙂

Those aren’t the only traditions I think of in my family of origin surrounding food. I fondly remember many nights spent around the dining room table, sharing our days, laughing over memories, learning new things, and occasionally getting in arguments. Throughout my childhood, my parents made family dinners a priority. When I was in high school and my brother was in college, family dinners weren’t quite the same. I would often eat my favorite chinese take out (Kouth Tae Bean Curd!) at the kitchen counter if my mom had a busy day or wanted to treat me. We were no longer having long, luxurious, more sit-down dinners at the dining table, but that tradition was warmly engraved in our hearts, and the value of sharing food together was clear.

Just a usual family sit-down dinner... Kidding! This was taken when we were visiting my brother in Japan years ago. We totally don't sit on tatami mats every night. Or eat Japanese food everyday. (Photo taken by my mom)

Since I got married a few years ago, occasionally my mother has had my husband sit in the place that is reserved for my brother. When my brother’s not present with us, it doesn’t seem to be of note. But I have noticed that when we are all together (all five of us: my parents, brother, husband and I), my brother is offended if we let that happen. I think he’s starting to move on, but it reminds me of how much it has meant to my brother and me to have these rituals around food.

We don’t have many non-food-related traditions in my family of origin, and they aren’t big, fancy and impressive. But I treasure them, and rather prefer them that way. They are comfortable, known, and loved. They’ve helped to strengthen our bonds as a family, and I think that’s quite a feat on the part of my mother – especially as someone who doesn’t naturally love to cook or be “domestic”. She was the backbone of those traditions, the one who got us all to get our butts in the chairs and stay there while we ate – regardless of what other things might have been calling to us at dinner time. (Including the phone – only when I was in high school did my mother begin picking up the phone if someone called us during “dinner time”.)

All this is to say that I find myself thinking about what it is like – and what will be like – to raise a vegan child. Maybe we won’t be strict vegans for all of Eden’s childhood, but maybe we will. I have been so moved and compelled by the information I’ve been learning about health and nutrition, and the power of what we consume to either give us life and good health or to take it away, that I wonder how our children will come to understand our decisions about food. I hope to pass on fond memories around eating – not of comfort food and unhealthy indulgences, but of feeling content around the dinner table with people who love you, of feeling nourished by nutritious food, and of feeling connected to one another through the routine of regularly enjoying sustenance with deep relationships.

I hope that Matt and I will be able to communicate and pass on to our kids what we have learned about healthful eating and an enjoyment of the meals we love, in a way that fosters long, happy, healthy lives for kids filled with many a sweet memory. I may hate the dishes that build up from just one night’s meal preparation in our home, but I love the great reward of sitting down together to enjoy our life-giving meal.