Annie Martin: Connections made through food go beyond eating

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      By Annie Martin

      My mom’s specialty dish is frikadelle, from her Danish heritage, a food that most resembles giant pork meatballs. When I was little I didn’t have the same adoration for these delicious morsels because they contained an ingredient I hated, onions. 

      But I would eat anything with peanut butter in, on, or around it. My mother, a trained chef, wasn’t willing to sacrifice a key ingredient, so she took the path of lesser evil and decided to lie to her child instead. 

      “Annie,” she said. “How about I add peanut butter to this batch, would you eat them then?” I peeled my attention away from whatever Spice Girls music video I was watching to respond “totally,” and happily consumed her peanut-buttered frikadelle.

      Several years later, watching my mom prepare dinner, I asked “When do you add the peanut butter?” She looked at me, and the length of her pause told me all I needed to know. From that day forward I began paying attention to how mom cooked, it was the beginning of my serious love affair with food.

      My friends and I started a tradition of weekly dinners during college, which has helped us retain a close relationship long after high school graduation. This tradition has lasted almost a decade, and although our dinners aren’t as frequent, they continue to be of major significance in all of our lives, a chance to slow down and check in.

      The importance of preparing my own meals has also helped me create my own home. As with my friends, slowing down and appreciating my new space provides a great sense of comfort and belonging. 

      There are connections to be made through food that go beyond eating. Mine stem from having a mother who was passionate about sharing her love of cooking. Others have less of a positive association with cooking. When I got older and left home, I discovered that cooking and home or family can be more of a disconnect than a bond. This left me wondering how that bond is built and why. 

      The demise of the home-cooked meal, shared with family or friends, and the connections that are born out of that tradition, concern me. A meal should be more than a pit stop on your way to something, but rather a culturally and socially important part of creating meaningful relationships. For each important event in my life there has been a corresponding meal to mark the occasion and create memories with friends and family.  

      We’ve changed priorities as a society, so that convenience is now paramount and a meal needs to be ready in 30 minutes or less. In our world of breakneck speed, the acts of slowing down enough to sit and enjoy food with the people you love or taking the time to learn how to cook a meal are slowly disappearing. 

      The value of a good meal has made me hyperaware of our changing social landscape and where we place the value of food. Too many of us feel disconnected from our meals and whom we share them with. 

      Shared food and cooking need to be viewed with more significance, whether that be an emphasis on connectivity or accessibility. This simple shift in culture could prove to be effective in creating meaningful, long lasting experiences between friends, family, and even a new home or neighbourhood. 

      I got excited to learn how to make frikadelle, years after learning my mom’s not-so-secret ingredient. Since it was a connection to my family, I could pass down to my children as my mom’s mom had passed down to her, with or without the added peanut butter.

      Whether a connection with food is between you and your family, friends, or space, the fact is meals matter.

      Annie Martin is a student in Simon Fraser University's Semester in Dialogue CityStudio program and avid eater.