Storytelling through food takes us back in time

Published 4:59 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2023

By Wayne Andrews
YAC Executive Director

Food is an important part of my life. I moved around growing up living in different parts of the United States. My parents who were born and raised in Boston had only experienced one region of the county growing up, New England. Their first big move came two days after they got married. They moved to Ohio so my father could start work with General Electric.

The numerous moves that followed were documented with a new child born in each new state. My parents became acquainted with the towns through food. Moves to Maryland brought a family crab trap that my brothers and I would row out to check. Wisconsin brought a love of brats. Kentucky introduced BBQ and bourbon balls.

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Trips back to see the grandparents and an eventual move to Connecticut kept New England staples on our table of boiled dinner, clams, and seafood. The addition of regional foods to our table was how my mother introduced us to a community. Chef Vishwesh Bhatt created Food Of My People, a dinner series that spotlights crossovers of cuisines. The series has featured community members whose Lebanese, Sicilian, Kentucky, or Cajun roots, traditions, and history are expressed in the food that they cook and share with friends and family.

I was asked to share my roots. In a series of conversations with Chef Bhatt I shared my family history. These conversations brought back food memories. I thought about how my mother, who had never left Boston, used food as a way to make friends.

Food was her conversation starter with other young wives and mothers in these new communities. Trading recipes became a way to start friendships. Cooking local foods for her children ensured a culinary vocabulary allowing us to fit in. Her process of assimilation through food became a way for her to protect her family.

I am not sure if she intended to provide her children with an appreciation for different cultures. My mother’s insecurities created children who seek to understand diverse communities through food. The conversations with Chef Bhatt brought me back to my New England roots. While I was born in Kentucky and moved to numerous other states and towns, it is the food that my grandparents and parents served at the family table.

It was the food that traveled with us to each new town.

It is the food I cook at family events. It is the food that tells the history of my family from the Mayflower ancestors who became farmers in Vermont to the Irish immigrants that came in the 1900’s to work in factories.

Food of My People returned to Snackbar on Tuesday, June 27.