For Girls Who have considered hating food…
… when their mother’s kitchen was too hot.
There is no talking about my relationship with food or my love for food without talking about my mother’s kitchen. On TV and in self-help/housekeeping books my mum keeps stacks of, the kitchen is the sanctuary of love in the family. Father (once in a while), mother and children gather in the kitchen before children leave for school and when children come back from school. In the kitchen they talk about their fears, their hopes and their dreams. They talk about their disappointment in life and in one another, all in the blessing of a well cooked meal prepared with love. On paper, the kitchen is the safe space in the house. It is where you come to cry at night when you can’t sleep and need ice-cream to hold your tears back. Above all, it is where you find refuge from that irrepressible human need: hunger, and pleasure in possibly the best thing in life.
However, today, I come for all girls, like me, whose mothers’ kitchens have not been as advertised on TV and in magazines. Girls who have considered hating food when their mother’s kitchen was too hot, too stuffy and the love in it, too bitter. In a way, kitchens like ours are just like the ones on paper. Mother and (female) children gather in the kitchen every now and then and because they are gathered so often, it is inevitable that most talk of their hopes, fears and dreams will happen in the kitchen. Lessons, very many of them, are also learnt in the kitchen and there is something in learning that is so full of love. When someone finally shows you that using a pressure pot is better than any other pot for cooking beans and it saves you so much time and gas. or when someone shows that cutting ugwu leaves is easier done by first slicing a bunch in the middle and folding into half so you already have a cut edge. These are the little things, warm enough to make the kitchen go round, enough for everyone.
I watched the movie Mustang the other day and this is not a spoiler but I remember that the point when home stopped feeling like home was when the girls’ windows where shut and the gate locked for fear of the girls straying from ‘proper womanliness’.
Love, taken to an extreme gets too hot and like everything left on the fire for too long, it starts burning.
We felt the burn every time we are shouted at for not knowing where something is in the kitchen. For not knowing whether the hot water comes before the garri or whether the garri comes before the hot water or whether the question should be asked at all. For not knowing how to tell if the nchanwu has gone off by just looking at it. We felt and still feel the burn ever so often because our mothers’ love is too anxious.
As much as I think I know and understand why their love is too anxious, I refuse to speak for them. I refuse to sit down here and tell you, from my point of view, what their point of view is and instead would rather just show you instead what the kitchen looks like from my point of view and how that has affected me/us and my/our relationship with food. After all this post is for girls, like me, who have considered hating food when their mother’s kitchen was too hot.
The kitchen, with time, became my most dreaded part of the house. Yet it remained that part I was to spend most of my time in.
The kitchen soon became that one place, in my young inexperienced life, that I was not good enough. Even when I was in my most competitive school and consistently performed worse then 50% of my class mates, I always felt more like a failure when I was in my mother’s kitchen. Either there was not enough salt or I did not put enough water in the stewing time for the soup. And when neither of that happened, the complain was that my cooking was not time efficient.
You see, in this journey towards ‘proper womanliness’, perfection is of utmost concern. If you know, you damn well know.
To be sentenced to something is enough to make you hate it but when you have to spend most of your time doing it, you have to devise a sort of coping mechanism. Hatred too, when left on the fire for too long, starts burning. You.
And that is where I considered hating food, among other things. First of all, I hated the utensils and hated the four corners of the kitchen. Then, because I could not hate my parents and siblings, I hated the visitors who came to our house and who we had to feed. And when that proved futile because the hatred was not getting me anywhere, I considered the food. This, is where the word ‘considered’ carries weight. To consider something means think about something, to tentatively weigh the value of something because you are on the other side. You only consider ‘A’ when you’re in ‘B’. I only use the word ‘consider’ because, deep down, I am in love with food. I am that girl who actually dances when she eats something nice, that girl who actually gets inspired by the right amount of pepper in food. I am that girl who still tries to put everything in the pot when I’m cooking because I just want to taste Everything!
Which reminds me of just another face of this whole conundrum: you know how when you love food, you tend to eat too much and if you have a certain type of body common among African females, you tend to get fat. (Another story for another day.)
As you can see, this life of hard love for your parents mixed with bitter, anxious love in the kitchen, and my over ambitious love for food and helpless love for society’s ideals of beauty does not make for an easy mix. In the words of the popular Igbo refrain ‘uwa bu popo’ (Life/this world is pawpaw). But that’s where I currently stand with food and that’s where I intend to start this journey on MyWeku Tastes.