What does “Real Food” mean to you? That’s the question at hand, as posed to me by a member of the Hellman’s Marketing Team asking if I’d be interested in writing an entry on my feelings about “Real Food” for Dave Lieberman’s “In Search of Real Food” on Yahoo! 360°. Mr. Lieberman is someone whom I admire, and the site is produced in his ubiquitous down-to-earth manner, making it a great read. But it was the subject of the request that got me hooked.
The request was simple;
Post on your site what “real food means to real people (you)”.
Interesting, to say the least. The request got me pondering the meaning of “Real Food”, and to be honest, I was a bit shocked by the answers that sprang to mind. I’d originally thought of making this entry a part of The Food Snob Chronicles, but it just doesn’t fit into that category. I also thought of entering it as a Thursday Thirteen, but I can’t break down what real food means to me into thirteen definitive items, it’s just not that simple a topic.
In the end, the answer was simple enough to be broken down into a one-line solution, but deserving enough of a thousand page treatise. I’ll split the difference and attempt to break this out in a few hundred words or so.
What follows is my (fairly lengthy) entry on the subject. So, dear readers, I’ll tell you, in no uncertain terms, what “Real Food” means to me.
The short answer, for me, is quite straightforward:
Real Food is any food that is made with love that brings people together and creates memories.
Yes, you heard me right. I did say ANY FOOD, regardless of how it was made, where it came from, or who made it. Anything from the perfect Steak Dianne all the way to Kraft® Macaroni and Cheese from the lil’ blue box. If it’s made with love in your heart, gets family or friends around a table and creates a memory for those involved, it is, in my humble opinion, the realest food that you can get.
While I was pondering the topic, I immediately thought of family dinners, reunions, weddings, BBQ’s and holiday meals. Most of the food was wonderful, some was a total disaster. (A case in point being a green bean casserole I made in 1993 which my daughters still have not forgiven me for! It was awful, but it’s still a topic of conversation today.)
In looking over my family photos, I realized that 80% of them were related to some time in our lives that involved a gathering and copious amounts of food. Christmas dinners, Thanksgiving, Easter (and the mess that comes with coloring eggs.) Birthdays, weddings and anniversaries were also in evidence. Most of the photos were taken as family and friends gathered around tables piled high with lovingly prepared meals, whether they were catered, made by my mother’s very capable hands, or were simply trays of antipasti arranged for everyone to sample on their own. (Yes, I’m Californian, but I grew up in the wine country. I didn’t even know the little trays we served were called antipasti until I was in my 20′s!)
As foodies we tend to think of the dish as the focus, but I feel that all the most succulent food in the world is wasted without someone to share it with. The joy in cooking for me is in the feeling of happiness and accomplishment when someone else loves what I’ve prepared. It’s in the conversations at the table, or standing with finger foods at an outdoor gathering. The food is the center of a much larger thing. Togetherness.
Food in all of its forms is our common ground as people. Whether omnivore or vegan, all of us must eat, and we prefer to be social in the process (for the most part.) Food and its preparation may be the focus, but it’s rare that the conversation doesn’t wander to other topics. Friends, family, work, it doesn’t really matter, good food, good friends and good fun become the order of the moment. It may even turn into a debate (especially between omnivore’s and vegans), though we tend as a whole to be respectful to each other in the process.
This is true among food bloggers as well. Many of us have met and grown close to other food bloggers out there in the ether. It was the food that drew us together, but it isn’t just food and recipes that keeps us together. We visit other foodies blogs to find out how their day went, what they’re up to, and of course what they’ve eaten lately, but hey, we are a food-centric bunch.
The meal you serve doesn’t have to be gourmet, or even completely hand made to be memorable. If you’re tight on funds but still in the mood for a gathering, why not go out and buy some $1.00 each separated food trays and make “TV Dinners” for a few close friends for a night of movies? All of the ingredients can come out of a box or be made for pennies, but the experience won’t be soon forgotten, especially if you actually cover ‘em with foil! Anyone old enough to remember going for the brownie before the meal will enjoy it, especially if you use real mashed potatoes.
Most importantly, get your kids, nieces, nephews, siblings or cousins involved. The love of food and family is something that’s learned, not something we’re born with. Cooking with your kids is the most meaningful time you may have a chance to spend, especially if they’re moving into their teen years, and if you’ve been cooking with them since they were young, it’s still a good time to bond, even if the rest of what they’re doing evades you as much as what you did at that age evaded your parents.
I think I’ve covered it. To me, real food is anything at all that brings people together and makes memories.
Why not go make some memories of your own!