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‘Food is about mothering – how nature provides for us, how we’ve been fed and by whom’

Joanne Fedler
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Published: 18 November 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

We have more culinary choices than ever, yet we’ve never been as spiritually malnourished. We need to ask deeper questions about food.

Three days before my mother died, she stood beside me, bent over from nausea from the chemotherapy, as her ruby grapefruit marmalade bubbled on the stove.

“How long must it cook for, mum?” I asked.

She held out a spoon and said, “when it gets to this consistency, you know it’s ready.”

We bottled six precious jars of what we labelled MoJo marmalade (for Mom and Jo). A year on, a final mouthful lingers at the bottom of my last jar. Somehow, I just can’t bring myself to finish it.

It’s not hard to recognise that this is more than just a sweet treat I should indulge in sparingly given that the recipe is half grapefruit, half sugar. Whenever I open the fridge there it is – those last precious moments with my mother as we supervised the alchemy of those grapefruits caramelising and she imparted marmalade-making wisdom. This jam has a history. It means something.

We all have our own food stories embedded in our early years – like Proust’s madeleines. Different dishes evoke memories and feelings of comfort, security, scarcity, hunger, nostalgia, taboo, seasons, festivals, celebrations, a particular person or moment.

But these are rare.

In our modern lives, our consumption decisions from our grocery shopping to UberEATS or restaurant orders, are driven by cost, convenience and control, rather than conscience, consciousness or connection to the produce.

The fact that so many of us have tormented relationships with food is due, in part, to our detachment from the source, history and story of what we put in our mouths.

The fact that so many of us have tormented relationships with food is due, in part, to our detachment from the source, history and story of what we put in our mouths. This is just one of the many corruptions of a hustling life. In an age with more culinary choices than ever before, we’ve never been as spiritually malnourished.

We are so obsessed with what we eat – Keto, low carb, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, lactose free, kosher, sugar-free, low FODMAP – that we fail to ask more insightful questions about food:

Why am I eating?

Who am I when I eat?

Where am I eating?

How am I eating?

Where does this come from?

What does this food mean to me – is it satisfying? Forbidden? A treat? Healthy?

What reasons besides hunger are driving me to eat?

Did any creature suffer for this plate of food? If so, how can I show my gratitude?

The laws of Kashrut are based on a mindfulness about what and how to eat, limiting the types and parts of animals Jews can consume and forbidding the mixing of meat and milk products.

The Jewish Independent

But when the letter of the law eclipses its intent, the connection to why we are following the rules in the first place is lost. In a world of factory farming and devastating methane emissions by livestock, there is a growing movement to embrace veganism as the new “kosher” as a true honouring of the spirit and purpose of Kashrut.

As long as we are addicted to convenience, we’ll favour pre-packaged over raw; speed over sustainability; processed over whole, as careless, preoccupied consumers in a capitalist food chain.

Without appreciation, devoid of story, our food doesn’t sustain our souls or the planet.

But even in a busy life, we can always give thanks for what’s on our plate - not only because "there are starving children in Africa" but because our ancestors have known scarcity and loss; because someday we will be too sick to enjoy food; because perhaps a living creature gave its life to sustain ours. Gratitude is always accessible, born of our personal and collective grief.

A professor of English with whom I used to correspond once sent me his recipe for red pepper soup. In large red letters at the top of the recipe he’d written: “You have to love the vegetables”.

Our relationship with food is often so regimented and tortured, it is devoid of love. But food is love – it nurtures, keeps us alive, warm and satiated. It was certainly my mother’s love language. When we thank the food, we bring our bodies back into right relationship with all the elements that have created it.

Food is a story about mothering – how the earth mothers us, how nature provides for us, how we have been fed and by whom and whether we got “enough” – love, attention, emotional and spiritual nutrition.

One of these days, I will light a candle and say a blessing of thanks to the trees for their grapefruits, the earth for the sugarcane and my mother for her recipe. And I will close my eyes as I savour that last mouthful of MoJo marmalade with the taste of all I have lost on my tongue.

Joanne Fedler will speak on The Future of food: Tikkun Olam & Sustainable Food Practices at the Adamama Jewish Food and Farm Festival in Sydney on November 27. The festival will be held from 10am-4pm at the Randwick Sustainability Hub.

Rebecca Solomons (Shalom) rebecca@shalom.edu.au

Mitch Burnie (Adamama) Mitch@shalom.edu.au

Anna Kharzeeva (Shalom) Anna@shalom.edu.au

Photo: Joanne Fedler and her mother (supplied)

About the author

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler is the internationally bestselling author of 15 books, a writing mentor and speaker. Her new book will be published by Harper Collins in 2024. Her book Things Without A Name has been optioned for a TV miniseries.

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