Food as Refuge of Choice

If you can and have the means, I highly recommend donating to Family Meal, a Portland-based nonprofit designed to help food service and agricultural workers during a medical debt crisis. Your help right now is needed more than ever. Thank you.

Featured photo by Regular Man on Unsplash


Oops! I thought I had scheduled for this for Thursday, and then turns out I didn’t! Even two years into this I still mess up, lol, but thank you for your patience regardless.

This title is a bit fun, isn’t it? I was thinking about it after an exchange I had with a friend of mine about how we’d usually choose to hangout via coming over for my homemade dinner, and it inspired this week’s post. Just a bit of sentimental writing, if you’ll stick around to read it…

I had been meaning to discuss this topic, as even using the word “refuge” is loaded, in a way… but for as long as I’ve had a kitchen to use, I’ve used food as the form of refuge I can give people.


Why, you may ask, is that something I chose to do? How did I come up with this? Honestly, it became something associated with me much sooner than I ever came to realize. It’s that instinct, in any period of frantic panic or thinking of trying to contribute to softening the severity of a situation, that I grab a pot or pan and start cooking.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Perhaps this is heavily influenced by my upbringing of food being at every occasion, good or bad, but I think the turning point of this all was my hearing the news that a dear friend of mine had gotten hospitalized my sophomore year. I remember getting the call from them and having to walk out of the room from where I was from shock. Then, in the evening, getting a call that they’d gotten returned to their place, and before I realized what I was saying, promised that I would be swinging by with homecooked food, because what could be more important to their recovery than that?

I busied myself with fixing up some rice, soup and tomato-egg, dropping all the plans I had made for the night. There was no greater sense of relief meeting them with all the food in my hands, and seeing them eat. Looking back, I don’t even think it was always the food for them but the act of being able to do something – even if that was just a small gesture in the wake of disaster.

And yes, I recognize the small level of arrogance and rudeness that goes into insisting I know what’s best for them and saying I will be seeing them (whether they like it or not) for that situation. But when I think back to my darkest, I wished someone would’ve dropped everything to see me, even under the guise of bringing food – it wouldn’t have needed to been anything fancy or homemade – but just wanting someone to be there would’ve been enough.

Since then, I recall any time that a friend or acquaintance needed support from me I was either bringing food to them or inviting them over, whipping up a meal (or two) and sitting in silence before they felt composed enough to start unloading their emotions.

From soup to a friend’s for the passing of family, eating on the floor because there was no other space because of the events of earlier that day that left no space for eating, to sitting in silence and even seeing they’ve stopped eating and packing it for them for later. In what sometimes feels like the loneliest hour, food has always been an excuse.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I like to think that those people would still call me if they ever needed anything – even though we may not talk or run into each other like we used to. In retrospect, I always wondered if I pressured people too much by my insistence of seeing them eat. Not everyone copes the same way, nor may even like to eat as much as I do, yet no one ever really stopped me or insisted I don’t.

A year or two later, that person I made soup and tomato-egg post-hospitalization were chatting and they randomly brought up how me juggling all that food at their door and insisting I watch them eat had really been the event to show we were truly bonded for life. They mentioned that it meant a lot at the time even though we hadn’t really known each other very well – we were originally mutual friends and then became closer than the person who originally introduced us.

But returning to the present. I had a harsh falling out with a long-time friend last year, and since then had been on somewhat rocky grounds. However, they recently came over to eat for dinner, to catch up. I had set the food down on the table, and after sitting in silence for a few moments, commented on how it felt nostalgic to be seated again, in front of each other, for a moment that felt like a lifetime ago.

Yeah, they said back to me, but it’s a nice thing to return to.

We chatted as we ate, catching up on both the good and bad. I even packed up leftovers for them on instinct, and we ended the night both full and caught up. Laying in bed thinking about the entire exchange later on in the night, it felt bittersweet that I couldn’t feel confident in my own relationships with people to just act entirely on my own confidence to keep up with their lives or stay close with them consistently, not just be there for the hard times.

But it kind of hit me that it was better to be this than a fair-weather friend. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll reconnect over some food in the future, when the darkness subsides and schedules clear up.


Upon rereading this, I feel a bit self-centered… but at the same time, this was kind of therapeutic to write about. Especially in the midst of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to be around as many of friends and support them in this food-way, but what can I do with a deadly virus running around, y’know?

In any case, I’d love to know if you do this kind of thing too, using food as refuge for people or even just for yourself! I know I definitely have, so please, if you have stories, I’d love to hear them. Did you like this little sentimental/serious note for this week’s blog? Comment below or reach me via Twitter or Instagram, per the usual.

If you wanna read more of my work in the meantime, I wrote an article about the state of restaurants in the last year and an advice piece on partners trying to settle on spatial cleanliness. Until next week!

Have you eaten yet? If not, don’t forget to!

Em

If you haven’t already, watch my latest YouTube video on eating at Pump Cafe!

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