The older I get, the more unfinished I feel. Amorphous and moving through space, I am never quite still. I’m waiting to harden like a boiled egg, but it isn’t taking. I go to school, I change my major. I go to work, I change my mind. I go to another school, another job, another city and state; in six months I am a newly-unemployed new grad (again), and ready to head back where I came from. There don’t seem to be bounds to my search. I am something, but what?
This comes to the fore with a DNA test, an exploration of my heritage given to me as a birthday gift. The results don’t reveal anything unexpected (I am a mutt, confirmed), but they do something else: they make me examine my identity another way. For the first time, I consider the geographical reach of all the genes in me, wide and tall across the earth. In the fullness of a map I see all the places that are a part of me. I’m curious about who made the people that made me—in ways as fundamental as what they ate.
I find that for all my Croatian blood, I couldn’t tell you what’s for breakfast in Croatia. I can’t name one Chilean dish. I’m not sure if a danish is actually Danish, or just a danish. Even the foods I do know (the pastas, the schnitzel), are familiar in a commercial sense only; I’ve had them, but not in my own kitchen. Not authentically, anyway. I am suddenly puzzled by my own uninvolvement with my history, like I’ve just seen what I look like for the first time.
My experience, instead, is colored by another kind of food culture: the homegrown. On our two acre plot, my childhood was framed by the greenhouse, the garden, and the orchard in the front. In the barn the chickens laid eggs. The blackberries along the fence cropped up from the ground like wildflowers do, self-sufficient. I still remember where the rhubarb was. Where we might’ve had an education on foods from our background, ours was watching seeds grow into plants, chicks into chickens. A slow education in patience, nurturing.
Now, this affords me the chance to explore my heritage for myself.
So I’m cooking. I’m making foods from the places that are somewhere within me, in the absence of prowess and without any claim to the word “culinary”. I roll up my sleeves without expectation or judgment, casually, the way one cooks to eat. Just to do it myself. My project begins and ends in my kitchen, wherever I may travel in between. I am an eater, certainly, but not a chef. I’m not a food writer, or an anthropologist, or a researcher of any kind. I am cooking to learn, and hope that in doing so, I find a place at the table of all those that came before me.
If nothing else, I will be full.