“Not every meal is just food” Chase Sapphire Card Advertisement
|A meal I fondly made with a friend on a visit home - Note the strawberries|
When I ate a Peach for breakfast this morning, I savored it as it dribbled down my wrist. Even though the juice threatened to permanently stain my clothes, I took my leisurely time letting my tongue catch the tributaries mimicking my veins. Compared to caf bananas (which I freeze so they don’t feel so smushy), and underripe oranges, the peach was peaceful. Centering. Sating instead of stressful. It was exactly what my body needed emotionally and physically to feel better.
The way our bodies interact with food tells just as much of a story. Tony looking back can see the juxtaposition between food and his father’s body; “Eating saucission a l’ail between crusty French bread, sipping vin ordinaire in his white terry-cloth shirt and boxer-style swimming trunks, wiggling his toes in the sand, he always looked most completely at ease.”  Food can define body language, the same way I’m sure someone could have traced the worry lines receding in my face as I ate the peach. In Saigon, Tony remembers in the marketplace after gleefully sampling from many vendors how “Another woman beckons me over and offers me a slice of jackfruit. I accept and offer her money. She declines, simply watches, smiling as I eat. I am loving this. I am really really loving this.”  This gesture, to me, spoke of her enjoyment of watching his glee in food. Reveling with him, she wished to share in that bodily metamorphosis he was experiencing.
“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”  When Tony thinks of oysters, he thinks of the “Big, scary, ugly shell in my neighbor’s knobby hand”  of his childhood. There were passages that cued my own ‘truly great meals’, but for me it was moments. I hardly ever see the entirety of the meal, but taste, a moment within it. I associated with his section that mimicked a slide projector, such as “A few beads of caviar licked off a nipple” . My own reel started clicking, and I remembered the first time I used honey to sweeten besides tea, or how well chocolate sauce does not work, and how well truffles do. Little helpful details, like the extra bite of peppermint Burt’s Bees Chapstick, ice cubes used as desserts with my poor dad or desserts with a not-so-poor boyfriend, and the use of ginger ale bubbles. My mind would then expand out of the gutter into the mint jelly that came with Lamb at my Grandma’s Birthday, and how I still prefer my Mom’s lamb shanks, inspiring me to call her to just say hi. I remember the first time I tried a salmon roe roll, and loved the way it popped, and tried an Unagi (a different type of fish egg), and always let Mom have it as her dessert. Whether it was chives stolen from the garden, even with the wolf piss on it to keep deer away, or the jam my grandmother makes from scratch, there are certain instances which cue me. Maybe it has something to do with my sensitized tastebuds, or the way I categorize my thoughts in the first place.
At the same time, our bodies also remember the bad experiences. I know people who were too brazen with Vodka at one time and still to this day can’t touch orange juice. I can look back and remembering eating one too many cupcakes at a Preschool function that always helps stay my hand from just-one-more-brownie-can’t-hurt. Or there’s the time when my need to try everything new and rich (in this case turtle) also reintroduced me to what rich food tastes like after bubbling in acidic bile in your stomach and rewinding through your throat. I’d still try it again, just keep the other rich food count down. You learn, same way Tony kicks himself for having the bad tete de veau, and then following it with his beloved foie gras. Our bodies know.
Besides the literal knowledge that our bodies have, there are cultural beliefs as well. In Saigon, eating a soft-boiled duck embryo leads to a man smiling and saying “Make you strong!” , as if Tony could now procreate better. Spiritual connection between what you eat isn’t a culture phenomena exclusive to tribes on the Discovery channel who believe eating the heart of the hunt would help strengthen the warrior. As a side note some studies now show that eating raw hearts can be very nutritious much like a liver or kidney, (parasites excluded), so maybe cultural beliefs are well founded. Either way, this connection between what goes in, how it interacts with us physically, and the memories we associate with both scenarios are one of the major threads stitching our memory quilt together.