I just finished my advance copy of Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table. It belongs to one of my favorite genres: the cookbook/memoir mash-up, and it’s good.
For me, this book about food turned out to be a surprisingly emotional read.
For a little backstory, let me tell you about another time food made me cry.
Last August, my family spent a week at the beach with my parents and my brother. We eat out a lot when we travel together, and this can be tricky for me (gluten-sensitive), and my daughters (with allergies to gluten/dairy and gluten/dairy/soy/ eggs/etc, respectively).
Knowing this would be tough, my husband had spent the week before telephoning the restaurants we planned to visit. Some had literally nothing we could eat; the remaining restaurants said it would be fine.
They were wrong. When it came to our daily meals out, it wasn’t fine: I spent that week feeling difficult, demanding, and high maintenance.
Late in the week, we headed out for dinner, again, a little too late and already starving. Thankfully, this restaurant was on the “fine” list. Upon ordering, we were reassured it would be fine.
Our food finally arrived, and we gratefully dug in. First I cut my kids’ food into bites, then turned my attention to my own plate. As I stabbed my first bite, the server swept up from behind, yelling “Wait!!” and startling me so that I dropped my fork.
“I forgot to tell the kitchen your plate was special,” he said, and whisked my plate away to the kitchen before I could say a word.
He returned a while later with a new plate, pronouncing this one safe. I thanked him; he left. But when I took a bite, I could tell it was not okay.
Again I waited for the server to return. Visibly annoyed, he agreed that my food didn’t look quite right. “The kitchen’s not great about stuff like this,” he said, and asked if I wanted to try again.
I couldn’t answer, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything but cry. I was crying about my dinner, yes, and about a week’s worth of difficulty and stress and tummyaches. I wanted to explain that it was about more than the food–because crying about your dinner is lame–but I couldn’t get the words out.
(My mom told him to bring me a glass of wine. I said no, that’s okay–and regretted it the instant he was gone.)
Eventually, he brought me my dinner. My third dinner. Everyone else had long since finished. I took a few bites and boxed the rest.
It’s been half a year, but that evening sprung to mind in the chapter on feasting and fasting. Shauna tells of a time she followed a restricted diet: no gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, no sugar. She followed it for 4 months; she felt amazing (sound familiar?). “But at the same time,” she says, “I felt like I wasn’t living in the same world everyone else was living in.”
Just like that night at the restaurant, Bread and Wine is about food, and more than food. The book contains some great-looking recipes, sure. But this book is really about what happens when people gather around the table. It’s about food as a bearer of love and forger of connection. It’s about what’s on the table, but—more importantly—what happens at the table.
Jamie Oliver says that food “binds us to the best bits of life.” But what if you can’t eat the food?
I don’t usually cry at the dinner table, but otherwise that night at the restaurant was not an anomaly. Eating at home is a breeze, but eating with others has been tough for a while now. The table has separated my girls and me from others, not connected us.
I hate that.
Bread and Wine has no quick fixes for me (although Shauna’s description of her husband’s gluten-free lifestyle was encouraging). But it reassures me that even though the communal table is a tender spot for me right now, it’s not time to give up. It’s worth it to gather there with others, even though at times I’m bound to feel difficult, demanding, and high-maintenance.
What happens at the table is worth it.
Is it hard sometimes for you to embrace what happens AT the table? I’d love to hear your story in comments.