Having Madeleines in our boxes this week got us thinking of Proust and his famous madeleine, largely responsible for triggering the memories which are explored in his famous book The Remembrance of Things Past.
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
—Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
Tom Shepherd, a local farmer who has been farming organically since the 70’s, when asked what motivates him, sums it right up: “Lasting memories for young people”.
In a sense for many of us, culture is most vividly experienced through food. Go on a trip to foreign lands, and what will surely stay with you longest are the tastes and smells of your travels. Equally, these taste and smells from our earliest years are an integral part of who we are and how we identify ourselves, staying with us at the most intimate level, and continuing with us our whole lives.
So as a parent, food memories are a gift I hope to offer to my children. Not food memories from watching a cooking show or looking at an instagram feed, but actual tastes and smells associated with food cooking in the kitchen and special times around the table with loved ones. The excitement of sharing a bowl of the first cherries coming into season as the weather starts to warm and the school year is wrapping up. The sticky feel of peach juice dripping down your chin on hot summer days, and the coziness of brussel sprouts roasting in the oven on a cold winter Sunday afternoon. Grown ups lingering around the table and their voices lulling you into a drowsy state. A pie coming out of the oven. These memories build a family culture, and a culture of place, a food literacy, and a healthy and emotional response to seasonal eating and home-cooked food, which will hopefully stay with a child as they mature and create new and healthy food memories for their own children.
As a nation made up of so many different food cultures which are so quickly abandoned for convenience, and then skillfully stolen from us by the Big Food marketing machine, one must ask: “Will our culture and food memories be of trips to the Golden Arches, and prepared foods nuked in the microwave?” Is it surprising that the loss of food culture comes hand in hand with a loss of health and a dysfunctional relationship with food? Is it surprising to see the disconnect between generations who no longer break the bread together on a regular basis?
So what keeps me going with Out of the Box Collective, 5 years in, and still very much a work in progress? It’s this hope that in my little way, the children of the families we serve will have all those memories of foods and times around the table, and hopefully one day pass them along to their own children. And in this little way, we can contribute to a movement circling back to a time where culture was one with place and season and identity and the love of family and friends coming together to simply share a meal cooked and grown with love.