How do you raise a child who has everything on paper; loving, stable parents, a beautiful, clever older sister, doting grandparents, fun aunts and uncles, a huge network of friends but is essentially, despite all of this, living as an only child with a single mum without many of those people close by to connect with?
If you work away from home, if you’re an armed forces family, an economic migrant, an asylum seeker, a single-parent, an off-shore worker or a weekend commuter then this might be a conundrum that you are familiar with. The opening up of the global economy has created so many opportunities for people. The world is there to be explored as we chase financial and political security, a better life for our children or adventure and new experiences. However, we do so at the risk of missing out on some pretty fundamental human connections. How do we find ways to keep it all together when our lives, hearts, friends and families are scattered far apart?
I don’t have the answer to that, it’s something I’m living with and finding my way through although I suspect it’s a big reason why social media is so successful. We are desperate to find connections in our busy, disconnected world, no matter how superficial they are. I have come to realise that food, plays a big part in that puzzle for me and I’m interested in finding out why.
I recently sat down with my mentor, and all round awesome human being, Julie Hanson, a lady who has undeniably lived her life to the max through many ups and downs and yet still comes out smiling. She has a wealth of business knowledge and a personal story of inspirational success or soul-aching failure for every scenario. When we met, she asked me to do the Demartini values test so we could look at what is important to me and why. The idea is that you will never be successful in your endeavours if they are not something that reflects your core values and therefore inspire you to put the work in. It was a mixed bag of results, which was unsurprising if, like me, you are a scatter-brained polymath, with multiple interests, mixed talents and a penchant for procrastination. However, three things did show up strongly: Yoga, Family & Food.
Why food? That felt like a weird one, but it got me thinking about each of these things and what connects them. Why are these the things that are so important to me? Then I realised, they are my source of connection. My lifelines.
I live far away from my husband and immediate family and have no clearly defined sense of ‘home’ having grown up in an armed forces family. I moved about a fair amount as a child, until my Mum set up base in rural Shropshire on the Welsh border and my Dad started commuting from wherever he was posted each weekend to see us. I left this home when I was eighteen to go to university in St. Andrews, and during that time my parents relocated to Wiltshire (and now Devon) so no longer lived anywhere that I had ‘grown up’ that I felt a strong connection to. This strange way of family life is something I have absent-mindedly found myself repeating in my own world as an adult.
I have travelled, moved cities, lived and worked abroad and endeavoured to give my son adventures and experiences that I hope will have expanded his horizons and appreciation of other people, places, religions and cultures. I have recently returned ‘home’ to Scotland to a small village just outside of Glasgow. It’s beautiful, friendly and near where my husband grew up but it is still disconnected from my own closest friends and family. My husband, meanwhile, who is the main reason for choosing to buy a house here in the first place, is still working in the Middle East whilst I attempt to give our son the stability through his final years at school and formative teenage development that we both believe is so important. It’s great and we are very lucky to be afforded this opportunity but it comes at a cost, not least to me.
Yoga is my anchor in all of this. It keeps me connected to my self and the community I live in and I truly believe has saved my life on more than one occasion. I would be lost on many different levels without it. If you want to follow that side of things then check out my MLH Yoga persona or come to a class with me.
Food, and how it relates to my sense of place and family, is the interesting one that I want to explore here. Why is it so important to me and central to my day? I wake up every morning and go to sleep most nights thinking about what I am going to eat, buy and cook in the day ahead. Sometimes that is healthy and nutritious, sometimes it is a fancy restaurant or a favourite coffee shop, more often then I would like to admit it is junk food, a carb-fest and a feast of chocolate.
My kitchen is filled with cookbooks that I prowl through each day for recipe suggestions and inspiration. I take pictures of whatever seasonal food I am currently obsessed with for my yoga Instagram page. The ‘celebrities’ I most admire are my cookbook heroes. I watch their programmes and envy their talent and passion for what they do. The ones I really love are those that explore their deeper connection with food. I love Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast – cooking, eating, chatting and bickering with her hilarious Mum, finding connections with the people they are sitting down to eat with through their food memories. Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Yottam Ottolenghi, Sabrina Ghandour, Jamie Oliver, Samin Nosrat – these people are not just chefs, foodies or cooks. They are deeply connected to the food they put on their plate. That is what I love. That is what I in turn connect with. The effect food has on their body is usually secondary to the effect it has on their mood and mind (although of course these things are increasingly recognised as being deeply intertwined).
For me, food (like yoga), is a way to connect with how I feel. What I choose to eat, and when I choose to eat it, highlights what is going on in my wider world. It’s also how I stay connected to my family, how I remember the experiences I have had throughout my life and on my travels but, perhaps most importantly, it is how I show my love.
Food is a fundamental building block of the human experience. It is not just fuel and if you treat it as such, I believe you are missing out on something special. Food is essential to our social interaction. It brings families together and blows them apart (who hasn’t had a row with a loved one over a bowl of pasta, or the Christmas dinner table?) When we sit down together to share food, we share our hearts and souls.
So this is a blog about that.
It’s about how we can find a way to connect with ourselves and our families through the food that we eat, even if we are sitting down to different tables in different houses, cities or countries
It’s about how we can use that connection to give our selves a sense of ‘home’ and ‘family’ when that family is scattered and dysfunctional.
Sometimes it will just be about how I love cake.