(Re)Defining, (Re)Valuing Food
From Hussa’s book, Healthy Selfitude
Food is so much more than food. It is so much more than fast food, healthy food, raw food or junk food. I believe food has a value that we have completely lost sight of in this culture and if we are to reverse the unhealthy cultural norms facing our youth, we can begin by looking at (and possibly re-shaping) our own value systems around food.
”It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it … and it is all one.”
Since I can remember, my mom has been sending me cookbooks ranging from healthy eating to gourmet cuisine to cheap on-the-fly at-a-glance cooking techniques. I think this ritual began one holiday or another, or for one wedding or another when mom gifted me a subscription to Cooking Light. Then Bon Appétit. Real Food. Cuisine… After almost 20 years of receiving these gifts from my mom, I have started noticing that I am more able to whip up a gourmet spread without a recipe in tow. In one occasion last year, the meal was apparently photo-worthy—our guests actually stopped to take a picture. I was shocked!! Where did I suddenly learn to cook? It was in that moment that I felt particular gratitude to my mom for patiently teaching me all these years. The moment-by-moment teaching, the monthly subscriptions, the daily readings all contributed in some way to what is now a vast knowledge and appreciation for the art of cooking and—even more—the joy of nourishing others.
It is challenging to describe how a lifetime of a mother’s nourishment through gourmet food and nutritious cuisine can feed her daughter’s heart, mind and body. My mom showed me her incredible array of culinary techniques the last 40+ years, provided me with the literature so I could train myself, and now I am able to cook artistic and colorful foods for those I love.
While my mom is a talented artist on many fronts—a skilled gardener, a talented painter, a singer, a witty conversationalist and debater—her abundant artistic spirit shows through her cooking. Like any pro, she makes it look effortless. She rarely (note: I didn’t say “never”) complains when she has been cooking for days on end for all of us—often three gourmet meals a day. She genuinely loves to nourish us with her artistry and to hear the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” filling the air with song.
I’m not sure if the memories from childhood inform my soul’s course—the garden plot we rented to fill with an acre or so of veggies, home-made dips, breads and concoctions to accompany the many flavors, dad grilling out back anything he could sizzle, the smell of the crackling coals on the grill, the warmth of the summer breeze, the wiggly sound of the brown 1970’s wood table as we sat down to dinner in our Midwest kitchen—as much as the newfound appreciation of these gifts.
As an adult, I savor moments watching my parents enjoy meals together as they coo at the mention of a farmer’s market, or new-found culinary tool, or to see their excitement gathering grey salts or dipping oils in the latest foodie store. My parents share their joy in many ways, but always in written form: e-mails detailing their memory of the taste of the foods, paired with just the right wine and always a photo of their creations.
Without question, my parents love food. They. Love. Food. The selecting of it. The purchasing of it. The cutting it open. The preparing it. The grilling of it. The kind of drinks that can be paired with it. Just. Love. Food. But mostly, they love the act of feeding others.
Having been raised in a family that appreciates the many “nourishing” aspects of food and the value of the family meal, I am quite interested in learning the customs and rituals that happen in other kitchens. When I was briefly married to my second husband (yeah, long story), I had the privilege of getting to know his family’s customs. They graciously shared their Iranian traditions, and filled each meal with culinary histories: the smell of the rose water, the burst of fresh herbs placed on the table, the crunchy, golden brown tadik made from Jasmin rice. In particular, I loved to learn the spiritual side of food—the prayer rituals that my mother-in-law employed while she cooked.
She had a small piece of aluminum foil that she filled with special herbs—each one containing symbolic and historic importance. She would slowly toast the herbs on the back burner while the tea was brewing and the rice baking. As she stirred the various sauces, she would sprinkle the herbs into the meal and as she did, she would whisper a soft prayer.
She told me that in this way, every person who eats the food receives a little bit of the prayer, so they are nourished physically and spiritually with each bite.
My wish for the millions of families who suffer from disordered eating and for those individuals who contemplate how many calories they are eating, or how much fat, or sodium, or painstakingly measure out each portion … is that they find a way to also contemplate the bigger picture surrounding food: The soulful purpose of a meal, the simultaneous spiritual and physical nourishment that occurs while exploring incredible artistry or sharing a priceless moment with people you adore.
This site will have an entire section dedicated to the artistry and culinary nourishment behind food … stay tuned! Please share your stories and experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Fisher, MFK. (1943, 1954). The Gastronomical Me. New York, NY: Sloan & Pearce.
Photo courtesy of Dino-De-Lucas
Robyn Hussa, MFA, E-RYT, is Founder and CEO of NORMAL, for which she was awarded the 2010 Champion in Women’s Health award from Ms. Sue Ann Thompson and the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation. Ms. Hussa is also a professional performer and New York producer. She is the co-Founder of the Drama Desk and Obie award-winning Off-Broadway theatre company, Transport Group, for which she won the 2007 Drama Desk award for the company’s breadth of vision and presentation of challenging productions. She is the Editor of the WeAreTheRealDeal blog site and author of Healthy Selfitude — a result of Hussa’s in-depth training in the performing arts, voice, movement, and yoga. She holds a Master’s in Fine Arts and is an E-RYT yoga instructor with the Yoga Alliance.