It occurred to me this week that my blog posts have strayed away from their original premise of exploring the connections between memory, family and food and that the past year has been more of a lockdown survival guide and emotional outlet for those who face similar challenges to my own. This week has been another struggle as we ‘celebrated’ a big birthday and a big anniversary from afar and I raged against the continuing uncertainty of how and when schools are going back in Scotland. A year into this madness and my ability to cope solo with no sign of respite has never felt on more shaky grounds.
Through all this, I have shared pictures of the meals I have been making on social media, but I had started to doubt their purpose. I guess it’s become a kind of personal culinary social history and maybe that’s not too far of a leap from my original aims, because it strikes me that the food memories that have been created for ourselves and our children during this period of history will stick with us for a long time to come.
Perhaps one day my son will be struck with a nostalgic craving for something we ate during this formative period of his childhood, or will catch a smell of something cooking that takes him right back to the time in his life when he was stuck at home and separated from his Dad, his family and his friends. Maybe that will be a comfort, but maybe it will be a source of stomach churning distress. Maybe it will take him years to be able to be in the same room as a bowl of hummus, or maybe he will still turn to his lockdown favourites for the reassurance and safety that he has discovered can come from having a tried and tested routine.
The reaction from my friends to the selection of tinned goods that my husband sent me for my 10th anniversary present, which greatly amused them and the delivery man, proves my point. They are the store cupboard of my generation’s childhood and immediately provoked a plethora of good and bad food memories as I lined them up on display. Corned beef hash with tomato ketchup and tinned peaches with Angel Delight, yes please. This is the stuff that 1980s dreams are made of.
For some lockdown will mean banana bread, sourdough and discovering Jamie Oliver’s prawn toasties. It will mean a time in their childhood that was full of boredom and worry, but also adventure, creativity, treats and fun meals round the table with a family who may have otherwise been too busy to be able to make the effort.
For the less fortunate it will be the memory of hunger and fear and not enough to go round that haunts them. A time when the daily certainty of a school dinner was taken away from them and they went to bed with empty stomachs. I can’t bear to think of that kind of trauma and its repercussions. Most of these tins will therefore be donated to my local food bank but they will not scratch the surface of the problem.
So as we start to open up the schools and face the consequences of that decision, I’m going to remember that despite my own personal misgivings and annoyance at the inconvenience of constant uncertainty in my daily routine, for those kids, it is worth the risk and that their lives should continue to be the ones we are prioritising.
Hopefully this blog will continue to support myself and others in similar circumstances, but in the end I hope it is something my son can one day find and look back on to excavate some of the memories and emotions he has formed in this time, and know that however many mistakes I may have made as a parent and how difficult things may have been, he was loved, fed and cherished.
That is the power of a plate (or a tin) of food and it should be available to all.