I was reading an article on the Psychology Today website entitled ‘How does culture affect our happiness?’ This made me reflect on how happier I was when my grandparents were alive. I say this because although times were tough, I never thought there would be a void in my life of cultural happiness.
Between the 1980’s and early 90’s I loved watching television with my grandparents in Brixton, South London. I remember those times like it was yesterday sitting in the front room watching shows like Matlock, The Rockford Files and Des O’Connor. It was the peak of every evening to huddle around the TV, because in those days television was the main source of family entertainment that brought people together. Oh! Don’t get me started when shows like ‘This Is Your Life’, ‘Songs of Praise’ or The Morecambe and Wise Christmas special were on. There was no Internet back then and having one TV in the house was a privilege.
The other event that brought families together was at dinnertime. I can remember during school holidays when I stayed with my grandparents, my grandmother waking up before everyone else and making breakfast in the kitchen downstairs. I would wake up to rich smells of the Caribbean with every dish she made. Smells of fresh bread, fried fish, coconut, rice and hot jerk seasoning would fill the air. I would go into the kitchen and while she had just made a fry-up breakfast, Jamaican style, she was also seasoning meat and peeling potatoes for that evening’s dinner. I had taken for granted how busy and talented my grandmother was because preparing the night’s meal didn’t stop there. She was also beating a mixture together to make a cake. She would hand me the bowl, much to my chagrin and say, “Here, stir that”. It was obligatory in my culture to know that if you wanted to eat, then you had to pitch in. I never complained about it as I got to lick the sweet tasting mixture of the wooden spoon afterwards.
I realized that her work was never done. She was always preparing food for whoever came to the house. Every weekend different people would come to visit throughout the day and everything would be discussed in the kitchen, especially during festive seasons. Family members always came to see her, and then popped their head in the front room to see if grandpa was fine. He was in his element, as long as he was left alone to hedge his bets on the 4:40 race at Kempton.
My grandparents never displayed their affection for each other, especially in front of the rest of us. We all knew it was a love of undisclosed fortitude. She was the rock that held the family together, and grandpa was happiest shouting at the wrestling match between ‘Giant Haystacks’ and ‘Big Daddy’. Easy! Easy! Easy!
When my grandparents passed away we hardly saw much of the family and very seldom did people visit my mother and I. It was only at funerals that I saw how much our family had been extended. My grandmother and her food signified togetherness.
It recently dawned on me that food was an integral part of not just my family, but of my entire culture. Food is universally underrated because of it quotidian usage. However, when I look at how miserable I had been in various situations, I realized that comfort food was nothing more than stuffing my face to make me feel better then consequently more miserable. What I truly miss is the eminence of prepared love that goes into eating heartily.
I have searched for the same impact that my grandparents had on me and found nothing. It is equitable to say that I am grateful to have the tools, tips and tricks that my grandmother and mother taught me about the preparation of a meal.
Money can make you certifiably happy and liberated but that still doesn’t answer the question about cultural happiness, which the article I read seemed to probe. The history of happiness has been scientifically analyzed to find the essence of its true origin. My grandparents never told me the importance of culture in food, although I learned to respect natural food from the Earth, which is called provision in the Caribbean. Food, music and culture provided a sense of belonging. Their ways were not to talk about cultural power, but to taste it. This is true for all cultural stirrings. Secret recipes and flavors were passed down that could heal the mind, body and spirit.
This makes ‘Soul Food’ my perennial reminder to never forget where I came from and feed my future with eternal gratitude.
Happy math’s equation: Food + family = cultural sustenance.