“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
I still have turkey meat in my freezer. That’s turkey from 2006. To say that I don’t cook is an understatement; my friends actually collect take-out menus for me.
Every December when I hear Susan Stamberg, of National Public Radio fame, offer up her mother-in-law’s recipe for cranberry relish, I punch another preset button. She’s been sharing this recipe annually since 1971. It’s online if you need it.
My issue is not with Stamberg or with her recipe. The annual NPR feature brings back a memory I’ve fought hard to suppress. When I first heard the piece, I was driving down a two-lane road toward Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Stamberg started her report by stressing how incredibly easy this recipe was to prepare and frankly, I got excited. Rather than pulling off the road to take notes, I reached over to the passenger seat to fish through my backpack for paper and pen and quickly drove off Route 22 and into a fruit stand. The details are no longer important, and the case was settled out of court.
But I digress. Being a committed non-foodie does not interfere with my capacity to share a memorable meal with friends and family. Everyone close to me cooks and the food they so lovingly prepare is almost always outstanding. And I am always grateful.
Which leads me to the point of this editor’s note. It’s not about the spices, the perfect pinot noir or the candles. It’s about sitting at a table with people you care about and sharing food. It is, in its simplicity, one of the most primal things we do. It is ritual. It is tribal. It is communion.
Food sustains life and it sustains peace. For more than 50,000 years, food has defined the cultures of the world and has served as the primary economic driver in trade, agriculture and industry. Food has repaired misunderstandings between tribes. It has bridged the awkwardness between generations, and not infrequently, food has served as the entrée to all manner of proposals. Sharing food is how we show our humanity and the best of our intentions.
As the holidays spill over us, as we gather to share a meal and conversation, we will be repeating a ritual older than the birth of Christ. And it does not matter one whit if your cranberry relish comes from a can. Please enjoy our food issue, and happy holidays.
Janis J. Nichols
(P .S. This issue of The Scene was edited by Rebecca Brant Miller, who left Willamette in November to begin a new life in Spokane, W ash. It is an exceptional issue, created and nourished by a gifted editor. We wish her and her new family all the best.)