A Personal History of Food

I suppose it all began with breast milk, right? My mother doesn’t strike me as a woman who would have opted for formula. Swaddled in a small, blue blanket, I was introduced to that soothing if temporary relief from the trauma of entering into this world. In the years that have followed, food for me has played many roles: fuel, comfort, victory, and regret–sign posts along the winding roads I’ve traveled.

    As a kid, food was picking little chunks of hotdog from radioactive mounds of KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese. It was barbecued hamburgers under the awning of my grandfather’s RV in the camp grounds of the dozens of national parks. It was pizza at the end of another year of little league baseball, getting my greasy finger prints all over another short, shining trophy celebrating my participation. 

    I’ve been told that back then I would drink almost an entire quart of milk a day. This was of course before my family figured out that I was lactose intolerant. I remember laying on the brown carpet in our living room, doubled over in pain from the cramps in my abdomen, struggling to identify the cause of my agony. Feeling somehow guilty, like it had to be kept a secret. Perhaps unknowingly, I was teaching myself a lesson I’d need later in life. How sometimes the things you love most will be the things that do you the greatest harm.

    When I traveled, food was adventure. Camarones just minutes out of the ocean, grilled up in a little beach-side shack on the edge of a sleepy fishing village north of Puerto Vallarta. A days old panini, hard as a rock, in a snow covered train station in Milan. The most perfect bowl of ceviche sitting across from my dad in a bar in Lima, sipping on cold beer watching a soccer match on an old TV. The first time I tried abalone in Big Sur and realized that the pure joy of eating could transcend both time and place.

    As a musician, food was community. Being invited to a stranger’s house for take-out after a show in a town I’d probably never go back to. Laughing and playing songs deep into the night. A cup of tea, a biscuit and eggs before the long stretch of road to the next gig. When the inspiration struck, I forgot food all together. Writing and rewriting, arranging, experimenting, I’d let half a day slip by on a few sips of coffee. That ache in my stomach burning, reminding me what it meant to need.

    In the Army, food was relief. I learned to eat fast—a habit I’m still trying to shake. On mission when supplies got scarce, I worshiped veggie-burger M.R.E.s until I’d eaten them so many times that just the smell that soggy, gray composite made me nauseous. Sometimes breakfast was a box of Cheez-Its and a Redbull, maybe some homemade beef jerky. Staring out at the tan earth and the tan buildings through the bullet proof glass in the back seat of a HUMVEE, wondering if today was going to be the day. Laying prone on a rooftop, my rifle next to a plate of rice in a thin tomato sauce, prepared by a generous mother, probably a good portion of the week’s ration for the family whose house we had commandeered, wishing I could be anywhere but where I was.

    Now food is discovery. Making new recipes with my girlfriend. Pan fried bone-in pork chops and figs with a balsamic vinegar reduction. Fermenting my own kombucha and sauerkraut, learning about the secret world of bacteria and mold. Ruining perfectly good cuts of meat. Spending too much at Whole Foods. Watching documentaries about great chefs and traveling the world vicariously through Anthony Bourdain, trying in my own apathetic little way to recapture the feeling of how it was to wander aimlessly in search of what is new and what is good.