Everything I know about flavor came from my mama. She’d be in the kitchen ever since I was young, stirring the richest chili freshened with tomatoes and green peppers, and deepened with brewed coffee and cumin. She would offer me a spoon she’d dipped into the pot and ask me what it needed to balance the taste. Some days it was simply more salt, more lime, or more coriander. Other days, neither of us knew. It was those days when the life was low in the house; when we were sleepy, worn out, and dreary that the food never tasted quite right. Looking back, it was never the ingredients and seasoning alone that made the dish special, it was the life crafted into it.
There is a close connection between life and food. We get our strength and energy from the nutrients we ingest. The energy processed between the plants, animals, chemicals, water, and the hands of culinarians or machines all contribute to the power transferred to us when consuming food. There is a lack of flavor in the food when there is a lack of passion in the preparation.
In my first year at Berea College, I was utterly confused as to how food never satiated me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t full. Actually, on the contrary. I was eating way more than necessary just to feel as though my body was getting some sort of nutrients (hence, my unsavory freshman >15lbs hanging around my waistline). My and many other’s plates were heaped to falling in restaurants and in the dining hall and we’d consume every last bite and still step up for more. Then, I thought back to my mother and the love she’d bake and sauté into every morsel. There is just no heart in my Hot Pockets and instant ramen noodles, even if you add a little old Taco Bell Mild Sauce for pizzazz. Where there is no love in food, there is no flavor.
In late September, I made a trip to Nebraska for my brother’s senior recital. My mom had whipped up cheesy chicken in my brother’s tiny apartment kitchen. She handed me a plate and I swear to every metaphysical entity, I was certain I’d cry like a child when I put a piece into my mouth. The chicken was discounted from Walmart. The cheese was store brand. It had all the makings to be supremely average, and yet– baby tears. It was the passion in my mother’s hands as she prepared the dish she knew would be eaten by her beloved family that finally relieved the pang of hunger I’d grown numb to.
Just 6 weeks ago, I started working at the Berea College Farm Store, where I am currently spending 6 hours a day and loving it. With the ingredients from the farm and greenhouse, the culinary art that is created here gives us students the warm embrace of home that we missed in our grueling studies. There is love, laughter, conversation, community, peace, ethics, and passion in the food that you can taste in each sip of Stephanie’s soup broth and the very smell of Bridgette’s delicate chocolate croissants baking. It truly is the people in the farm store that gives the food such heart. Especially, the newest hire, Tammy.
Tammy came to us from EKU where she grew the farmers market from 4 farmers to 37 in 4 years with her incredible food knowledge and bright personality. We are constantly reminded about how much she’s missed by the many people from her former career that seek her out daily to hug her and take selfies. It’s unsurprising that she was a loss in her prior community. She is such a force in the little store. She came in like a whirlwind and absorbed every facet of the ins and outs that she could.
Every morning when I come in, we go right to work hand preparing the soup, salads, wraps, and specials for the day. As we chop, stir, top, and season, we all joke back and forth like we’ve known each other for years, not a mere few weeks. Tammy always makes me feel valued and appreciated. I hope we can do the same for her. I and the rest of the Berea College Farm Store family will miss Stephanie and Sean Clark very much as they go on their travels for a little while, but with Tammy around, we are certain the love, joy, and passion that Steph and Sean created will remain within this place we love most.
My time at the Farm Store will also be coming to a close with the beginning of the semester when I will transition to a labor position in the Theatre Department. The Berea College Farm Store will forever be the place where I feel the most accepted and loved out of anywhere I’ve worked. How blessed I am to have a little family away from home where I can find my stride in the hectic environment of Berea College, and fill my heart with a little bit of the flavor of love; just like my mama used to make.