How food can connect us and create communities - Sophie Mei Lan
In her latest column, journalist and mum Sophie Mei Lan reflects on the power of food to connect us to the people in our lives and bring back memories of happy times together.
Thick rice noodles embrace the freshly sliced slithers of bamboo shoots, pak choi and bean sprouts, with the warming touches of garlic and ginger as the awakening flavours of spice and fresh chilli cut through the dish, perking me up as the salty soy sauce enhances one of my favourite Oriental-inspired breakfasts.
Even chewy wholegrain hot toast with a light smear of margarine piled high with lashings of baked beans and downing a pot of tea can do a similar job of transporting me back to happy times as a child growing up in Yorkshire living across two homes with family world-wide.
From the breweries of Burton-on-Trent to the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur’s street food markets and back home to Sunday dinners, comprising of home-made Yorkshire puddings, baked stuffing balls, nut roast and an array of vegetables swimming in vegetarian gravy…
Wherever we are in life or the world, there’s nothing like the hug that comfort food can give us. The familiar flavours tantalising our taste buds as the warming sensation of food from our personal history fills our bellies.
Food isn’t just physically warming but it has the power to reflect our cultural heritage as well as foraging present-day communication through shared meals, recipes, memories and ingredients which inspires profound conversations.
Whether you show love by serving others with nutritious food or devouring delicacies, food is a core part of our daily lives which can connect human beings who may otherwise feel disconnected.
Normally I’m a “feeder,” serving up Chinese hot pots, vegan buffets and Yorkshire puddings until I was transported from my locality into the draconian confines of a West Yorkshire hospital ward away from life, family and familiar food.
With my parents and close comrades unable to contact me other than a strict slither of the day, they all not only embraced me physically but they hugged me throughout my prolonged stay by delivering food and beverages. It was also food which welcomed me back into the world once I was well enough to return home.
My local takeaway, Abdul’s, was the first to deliver me with some spicy vegan delights, followed by hot samosas from my neighbour.
Then my local allotment provided me with fresh potted herbs and my dance, church and wellbeing sisterhood all delivered me grocery shopping, full of my favourite edible snacks.
I went from feeling lonely to being revived by such community spirit. I had gone from being the feeder to the fed. Both ends of the spectrum feel equally fulfilling.
As soon as I was feeling stronger, I was able to go on short walks to my local greengrocers, having missed the freedom to walk, shop or cook at hospital. Believe me, if I could’ve I certainly would have served up heartier foods to fellow patients who like me struggled with the sludge of NHS microwave meals and the monotony of indefinite stays away from loved ones.
Yet the power of food as a tool for comfort, communication and connection is such that it heals our soul within moments of the flavours tickling our palettes.
Whilst dinner parties, festivals and shared community meals have been postponed over the past year in replacement of solo baking pursuits, eating at screens and contrasting cupboards, from scarce to excess depending on the household, or even illness. I know I am going to appreciate every meaningful mouthful from now on.