Many years ago, on a family vacation, we were playing a charades-like game. Our girls were young — maybe 11 and 8, or maybe younger — and I was paired with my younger daughter, Sammi. She is the “sunshine” for whom this blog is named, and at that age was a funny, silly little girl who laughed and made us laugh all the time. The word I was trying to act out was “crumbs.”
First, I mimed eating a big cookie. “EATING!” she shouted. “COOKIES! SANDWICH! MUFFIN!”
I shook my head and held one finger up with my eyebrows raised, willing her to wait. Then I pretended to notice something on my shirt. I looked down, pinched an imaginary speck of food off my shirt and put it in my other hand, pointing to it.
“CHOCOLATE CHIP?” Sammi yelled, bouncing up and down.
I shook my head again, taking another imaginary bite out of my imaginary cookie, then pretended to drop some of it on the table in front of me. I mimed wiping my fingers on my shirt to brush off all the particles of cookie, then pointed at the table.
Sammi paused, her eyes squinting as she thought about it. “FOOD LINT?” she suggested.
The rest of us dissolved into hysterical laughter. “Food lint,” became our family name for crumbs left on the table or even dishes left behind after a snack. “Can you please clean up your food lint?” my husband and I ask when we come upon the empty bowl with cracker dust inside, or the crumpled napkin next to mug with a soggy tea bag inside.
When Sammi was very small, I would have never believed that there would be a day when food would mean something positive, joyful, even funny. Feeding her when she was little was so hard, so fraught with emotional weight, that it felt like it would only ever represent struggle and heartache and failure on my part: failure to feed her things that didn’t make her sick, failure to feed her enough to help her grow. Feeding her — and the rest of my family — was so much work for me, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Food carries positive meaning.
Making food brings me into harmony with my soul, centers me, makes me feel accomplished and satisfied. I like to admire sliced beets, perfectly even layers of vanilla cake, the marbled green and tan of a pistachio. Food is impressive and miraculous. Food can warm us, cool us, fill us, and sometimes — in the case of my favorite spicy takeout Korean noodle soup — heal us.
I share a lot of food photos on my Instagram page, alongside photos of flowers and plants I find on my walks and jogs. They’re not so different, actually — both things that largely come out of the ground (I’m a vegetarian), both things that are inherently quite beautiful. I believe in things that grow: plants, flowers, food, children.
This week, I had an article published on Kveller.com, a story about one particular food I associate with the Jewish high holy days. It connects me back and forth in history, from my childhood when I ate my mother’s version to my older daughter eating mine in her college dorm room. And so there’s another thing food now does for me: it grounds me in my own family tree, “food lint” coursing through my very DNA.