When I was in high school, food was an enormous plate of apples, oranges, and strawberries (yes, I lived in California) cut and cleaned by my grandmother and delivered to my solitary room upstairs where I pretended to do homework but instead snuck on AIM through our family’s DSL connection. When I was in college, food was late-night on-campus nacho-bar runs with a close friend to discuss crushes—a plate of chips piled with nacho cheese (the “real” kind), chopped tomatoes, onions, black olives and pickled jalapenos—ecstatically ignorant of the “freshman 15.” When I was seven or eight and my mother took me to Moscow where I was born, food was a spiny cucumber grown to fleshy green perfection on our summer dacha.
I have a horrible memory. The only other things I remember about my “childhood” are lying in bed in a room I shared with my grandmother trying to fall asleep while she watched episodes of ER. Probably because there was a lot of weird screaming, birthing, and sexual tension. (Probably also why I now have a strange affinity for Grey’s Anatomy, and yes I still watch the new episodes while folding laundry). I also remember a specific type of plant I used to pick while walking home from elementary school—you know, the one with the fronds that come right off and you can throw them at people and they stick to their clothes? Oh, nevermind. No one ever knows what I’m talking about. Everything else I think is a memory is actually just something I saw in an old photograph…me and my cousin making faces at one another, jumping on a trampoline with a boy’s haircut, floating in the Dead Sea, meeting a Russian Donald Duck (sounds pretty normal, right?).
For me, cooking—nay, eating—has helped me to remember. Taking pictures of food, posting pictures of food on social media, and looking and re-looking at those pictures of food helps me to remember not only what delicious or disgusting morsel I ate but also how I was feeling at that time. Warm hack-ramen with friends on a blisteringly cold Iowa night, my yogurt and granola (read “healthy”) phase, bread with butter and caviar and being home, revenge sushi. The list goes on.
I love posting foodporn on Instagram, where 35 seconds sometimes feel like a decade. It connects me to all kinds of users across the globe, different cultures’ cuisines and culinary creations, morning and night. It’s a motherfucking weird and awesome food sharing space where Alex Gaurnaschelli will only ever hashtag close-up shots of cheese and pastries with “#growwwlllll” and Graham Elliot gets real philosophical with pictures of the ocean and users like “Fat Phuck” exist.
I have to admit; my memory is improving. Sometimes, right before falling asleep—in between planning the next day’s culinary experiments—I remember the crayfish I won at the fair and my parents’ first apartment. The time I “accidentally” called 911 and promptly hung up, only to hear an authoritative knock at the front door some ten minutes later. The low drone of an airplane sailing overhead in the night.
Of course, not all my memories are food related, but the clearest ones are. They’re the ones I can firmly situate in space, time, and sizzling butter. They are always the most vividly lit and tactile. I know, without a doubt, that they’re real because my body remembers. Oh, and they taste better, too.