Yesterday I cooked all my parents Sunday meals made from scratch. It was a labor of love.
It seems at least one girl child in my Mothers family line inherited the cooking gene. Mom got it in her family. It’s origin…. she did not want to be working the fields my Grandfather Sharecropped with her 12 siblings…so she cleverly used her status as eldest girl child to assist my Grandmother in the kitchen. In my family that girl child is me.
My cooking skills have always been a part of my survival. When I first moved to NYC, I worked as a nanny /cook/housekeeper for a wealthy, progressive “family of color” in indentured servitude. The family owned the building and on top of cooking, nannying And light cleaning…I did personal assistant work for low wages while I auditioned.
I did that for two years before booking acting work so I could move out and live with a roommate. From cooking for my actor housemates while on tour to save money to talking my way into a vegan cafe with no experience and becoming management to trying to run my own catering business…cooking was always a burden for me allowing me only enough money to pay for my basics, rent in NYC.
I worked as a cook so I could save money on food. Even working as a Black woman “private chef” in NYC the real expectation of the last liberal “old money” wealthy white woman who hired me as her private chef/health coach in 2010 was for me to also do “light housekeeping” which included her wanting me to hand washing her dirty underwear.
The first thing many strangers say when they learn that I’m a great cook and have cooked professionally is that they want me to come cook for them. I never want to cook for strangers. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my life was working in the restaurant industry as a cook. But the allure of making fast cash without sitting behind a desk, being with people the energy the community of restaurants and cooking sucked me in.
Capitalism transformed my love of cooking into this product that was bought and sold. Put up against others to compete against. I had to work long hours on my feet for low wages to continually feed others and clean…while my spirit was sucked dry.
People I worked with in catering have ended up in rehab, divorced, and some have committed suicide. The underbelly of the restaurant industry is grimy.
When I was cooking for a living, the self taught dark skinned Black woman who cooks well in Amerikkka was instantly viewed as a low cost resource to feed and nurture others.
I walked out of my last cooking job In 2010 without regret. Spending time in France last fall allowed me to fall in love with cooking in a new way. Going to a goat farm then eating the goat cheese from animals I’ve breathed the same air as, spending time with the Female chefs who lovingly prepared our meals, taking time to enjoy the food lovingly as a lifestyle prepared me for today.
Being in this pandemic reality with my parents who need solid nutrition to help process the medications they depend on to slow down the aging process has deepened my wisdom of food as mind body medicine and energetic healing.
For breakfast, I got my favourite organic pancake mix and cooked kale with free range eggs and veggies . For dinner I used the purple bell peppers from my Dad’s garden in the veggie succotash on mixed greens ….I paired with my homemade spaghetti as meat sauce. I learned to make homemade red sauce from an elderly Italian grandma I adopted back in 2005. I would visit her and cook with her.
I made French bread and served with butter. For an appetizer…coconut shrimp on mixed greens with mango salsa and cherry tomatoes. For dessert…blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. My Mom smiled with tired eyes grateful. She was able to eat most of the food I placed before her. She thanked me for making dinner.
Daddy, after mentioning his gratitude for me coming to VA to take care of them in his prayer to bless the meal simply said, “Jeanine, your food is delicious.”
Cooking is always labor. When we cooks transform our labor into love…we heal.