Telling Our Stories

“When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover, they fear one another.” (Wendell Berry, What Are People For)

 

Wendell Berry: Farmer, Writer, Academic - photo courtesy of thebridgepai.com

 

 

I just finished an interesting book. It was given to me by Dr. Neal Lester, Dean of the School of Humanities at Arizona State University. Not for Profit is an essay on why the humanities are important for democracy. I have to admit it was some pretty heady stuff and somewhat alarmist at times. But, as I have found over the last year and half, the humanities are often hard to describe. I liked this definition in particular which the author describes as the spirit of the humanities: “searching critical thought, daring imagination, empathetic understanding of human experiences of many different kinds, and understanding of the complexity of the world we live in”. I believe that is what Wendell Berry is conveying in his comment.

Later this week, I’ll have the privilege of traveling to hear Dr. Gary Nabhan speak. Gary’s book, Coming Home to Eat, changed my life and it will be my first opportunity to meet him.  As conservation scientist, his work has been dedicated to preserving seed diversity and to recovering native food traditions. Said another way, he’s telling and preserving our stories.

From that perspective, Gary’s work and the idea of preserving food traditions makes the humanities easier to wrap my head around. After all, food is a large part of our stories. Visiting the farm where our table crops are grown, knowing the lady who owns the chickens that produce our eggs and shaking hands with a fishing guide who will take us to a catch all become parts of the story. The holiday meals, the recipes, the cookbooks with ink scratch in the margins are parts of the story too. Frankly, they’re a part of my story that I want to capture, record and share for my children and for others who may have an interest. And if food allows us, in a simple way, to create an understanding of different kinds of human experiences, then why wouldn’t we start there?

What is your story and how will you convey it to others?

 

Elsie’s Cranberry Frappé

A Holiday Tradition handed down over the years

Serves 8
Ingredients:
  • 1 package of cranberries
  • 4 cups of water (split half for cooking and half for blending)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp grated orange rind
  • 1/4 of a mashed banana (this can be omitted depending upon taste)
  • 2 cups cold Carnation milk

Cook cranberries in 2 cups of water until the skins are broken. Rub them through a sieve. Stir in next 5 ingredients. Pour into a tray and put into freeze.  Stir two or three times after frozen. Serve as an interim course to cleanse the palate during a holiday meal.

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51 Comments

  1. Lovely post, Tammy. I completely agree that our relationship with our food reflects and nourishes our relationships with one another. It seems that a lot of issues we have in our society are tied to post-WWII industrial agricultural practices. And it has been interesting for me to learn more and more about the people who have spoken up in favor of preserving food traditions from that time to the present.

    Reply
    • I agree. I’m very interested in the work that they’re doing and find it fascinating how it truly illustrates the circular relationship of things.

      Reply
  2. Wonderful post, Tammy! It’s always such a thrill to meet and be able to talk with a person who has been a large part of your own thinking and formation. I hope it turns out to be all that you hope for1

    I had to laugh at myself when I first read your recipe! I though it said “Cranberry Fudge,” and not “Cranberry Frappé!” However, they both sound good to me, and I might try the real thing!

    Sharing our stories: such an important part of creating community and moreover, creating fellowship! Something my mother told me once concerning group formation and dynamics: “True koininia (fellowship) comes from shared weaknesses and not shared strengths.” It is so much easier and more fulfilling when we are able to share all that we are, instead of only what we consider our best. When we share only a part, people perceive you as that, and you end up pretending with them so much of the time, and end up without a solid, lasting, and rewarding relationship.

    Reply
    • What a great hand-me-down from your mother Paula. I completely agree about being the complete person and sharing that. And, if only I could figure out how to put an accent mark on that e!

      Reply
      • Ah, all the diacritical marks are easy – as long as you have a microsoft keyboard with a number pad. Just go to this site, and it tells you how to do it: http://www.forlang.wsu.edu/help/keyboards.asp

        If you have a Mac, there is a site for that too, just Google it, with keywords like “diacritical marks for Mac keyboards,” or something like that. There may even be a note about it at the bottom of the page I gave you above. Have fun – you’ll be amazed at what you can do without having to download anything. Let me know if you have problems with it.

        Reply
  3. This makes so much sense. It gives me hope to think the necessity of eating–and changing our dining habits–might be a way in which we relearn our stories and create the kind of connectivity that leads to understanding. Thank you for the great quote and this post!

    Reply
  4. GKH

     /  October 17, 2010

    There mom, good job. I read it 🙂

    Reply
  5. This is almost a pre-Thanksgiving message with the correlation to food. Thank you for the perspective!

    Reply
  6. Great post! As always. I love that quote. Never heard about it before, but that is one to live by, that is for sure. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    I wish I was more “close” to the food I eat like you are, if you kno what I mean. Seems wonderful.

    Reply
  7. A wonderful post, thank you.

    Reply
  8. Tammy – a lovely post for sure. Lately I have been taking time to cook more for myself. Just planted the fall garden today wih the help of several friends – teaching them along the way. Now the agonizing wait for the plants to grow large enough for me to harvest!!

    At least the herbs are still going strong and I can use them for now.

    Reply
  9. This speaks such critical concepts, Tammy. I grew up on the Alberta Prairies – we knew where our food came from. Now, living on a small West Coast island, I can shake the fisherman’s hand. I do know how well that woman cleans her eggs before she sells them to me. I helped the man for a few years who was known as Tomato Dale. It all counts. It influences our attitude. It encourages us to think differently about the way we nourish our bodies and lives.

    Thanks for this post.

    Reply
    • You’re welcome Amy. Thanks for reading this. I’m continually amazed at the circle of life – the idea that knowing a farmer builds shared knowledge which allows us to sympathize and imagine ourselves in another’s shoes – which enables us to think more critically and therefore to stand up for what we believe in… and I for one, believe in good local food.

      Reply
  10. Great post. Thanks so much for linking up to Weekend Cooking. I am a huge Wendell Berry fan and am always interested in learning more about him. I’m also going to have to take a look at Coming Home to Eat.

    I am fortunate in that I do know who grows my meat and eggs and dairy products. For more than half the year, I know who grows my vegetables and fruits. I am forced into grocery store shopping only over the dead of winter.

    Reply
  11. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Wendell Berry’s writing in high school–(early ’70’s: I had a very forward thinking poetry teacher!)
    Story is Everything. Story has the power to connect and transform. And, when we tell our stories with food–an ultimate connection—think what good can be done.

    Reply
  12. Kathy McNamara

     /  October 18, 2010

    Tammy – I think I told you one of my most prize items is my mother’s Betty Crocker Cookbook – the stains, the notes etc. Remind me of the family gatherings around the dinner table! I also remember purchasing beef from the local butcher (also the rancher who raised most of the beef) – it was just different. We are now buying our meat from local ranchers – and going to farmer’s market – Thanks for your blog! They always make me think – Thanks again!

    Reply
  13. Dearest Tammy, I quoted Wendell from this post on my blog today. Thank you for the gift of his writing.
    Have you seen the blog “Eating from the ground up?” by a woman I know, Alana Chernila. She lives here in GB. I think you’d love her posts.
    I hope you are well.
    Much love, Suzi

    Reply
    • Suzi,
      Thanks for reading and for sharing Wendell’s writing. I went over to the laundry line and I’m so sorry about your mom and what you are going through. I will try to add a story. And I will check out the blog.

      Reply
  14. Tammy, you always make me think, thank you! Listening to the local stories and cooking accordingly was never something which had crossed my mind before. Lets hope none of the local recipes include eels.

    Reply
    • Eels! I guess it depends where you are from. Unagi is a sushi favorite of my husband’s. You appear to have so much inspiration for stories that food may not even need to be part of it.

      Reply
  15. jessiecarty

     /  October 19, 2010

    Wendell Berry is still on my list of people to read. Now to push through all the other books to get to him 🙂

    Reply
  16. Every recipe has a story – what a nice thought. I’m reading a book called Salt: A World History, and it is a very interesting look at how salt has shaped the human story.

    Reply
  17. Yes, recipes have a story and culinary traditions too. Food helps create history.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    Reply
  18. Blackberries and peaches for childhood,
    mangoes and eggs for now
    food has so many stories…

    and then there are cake shops of st kilda
    and the first taste of Persian rice with carrots
    and broad beans……

    Reply
  19. Sounds interesting. I love things like this. I love people and food. Your posts are always so interesting.

    Reply
  20. Such a wonderful post (as always)!
    So because you’re always a joy to read and talk to even if in this virtual world, there’s an award for you on my blog 🙂

    Reply
  21. Kath (Eating for Living)

     /  October 22, 2010

    Very interesting, Tammy! This topic was always one of the most interesting for me back when I did cultural studies, and now in social psychology: What makes up a group? What creates the feeling of social identity and belonging?

    There are different approaches to this, but on the very basis you can say it has to do with familiarity and something like a common history. This has to do with shared reality: We went through the same experiences, and we did this in the spirit of sitting in the same boat.

    In social psychology, there’s a theory called Shared Reality Theory that deals with exactly this: If we perceive and interpret the world around us in a similar way, we can relate to each other and feel we belong together. Stories are interpretations of reality, so sharing your stories will create shared reality. Moreover, with the time these stories will make up a mental framework for the creation of meaning in member’s minds. But this has to be an iterative process to prevent oblivion, so it’s important to gather regularly and reactualize the sharing of meaning. This is what every culture or social group does by meeting regularly at certain events (think holidays, which are holy days by the original meaning of the word, therefore days to gather and celebrate and retell the stories – like Christmas), and on a daily basis people do that when coming together for sharing a meal and talking. Food is one of the things everybody shares interest in, so food has always been tied to the spirit of community. People never ate alone until the past few decades, and reviving the tradition of sharing meals as well as traditional food preparation techniques will help to deepen the experience of belonging together. I believe this is a step into the direction of reconnecting, and establishing a sense of community (again) is the only prospect people have if they want to go. We are not made for being separated, we are all related to each other.

    Sorry for the novel, but the length of this comment reflects how much I enjoyed your post.

    Reply
    • Kath,
      What an interesting perspective. I hadn’t thought about the issue that people didn’t eat alone until the last few decades. That sounds like a future post. Tonight is the Gary Nabhan lecture and I really cannot wait.

      Reply
  22. It was good seeing Wendell Berry’s picture. I got to meet him a few times when I was a newspaper reporter in Kentucky years ago. I remember him making the point that it’s called agri-culture for a reason.

    Reply
  23. I absolutely have to try this. I don’t like to use milk and substitute with carnation every chance I get. I love, luh-uve cranberries and oranges together.

    Reply
  24. A lot to think about here. I love Berry’s words about sharing stories, the definition of the humanities you share (wow! inspiriting–i’m studying to be a professor), and the idea of Dr. Nabhan’s work as one of telling stories. And you’re right–food is one of the very first places we should start when we begin to tell our stories. !

    Reply
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