When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...
This is a piece about food which is in no way about food that is clean, or food that is good or bad, or food that you’ve earned, or in some way had to allow yourself temporarily off the hook of self-flagellation to eat. Nor is it about banging on about how much food you eat, in some sort of attempt to disprove a food/body-size obsession.
This is, quite simply, a love letter to food. Food as a crutch, a comfort, a glue that holds things together. Food as a path back to things being put back together. People bring you food when your life has been upended – by a birth, or a death – and it’s the kindest thing they could do in that moment. This is a story about food as a healer.
Dinner after divorce
Laurie David, producer of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth and ex-wife of Larry David, famously wrote an essay about family dinners in the aftermath of divorce, after the couple split up. Two Homes, One Table: Family Dinner After Divorce, it was called, from her book The Family Dinner.
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After her husband left their home, Laurie decided that to stop family dinners around the dining room table, even temporarily, would be in some way to give in. Sitting down together amidst their mutual hurt seemed unappealing at the time. But all retreating off to various corners of the house, abandoning the simple act of coming together to eat, seemed to suggest that something was broken forever, a notion she “honestly didn’t believe to be true.”
Even though she and the kids didn’t feel like sitting down together, had little if anything to say at times, she persevered with evening dinners at the table. When conversation fell dry she would resort to word games. It was a way of saying everything would be ok, without actually saying those words. Of acting them out, which is usually more convincing anyway.
One step further
That established, she decided she would get Larry back to the table, for a once a month dinner. Ambitious, she quickly decided that it would be a once-a-week event.
At first, Larry responded with a few emphatic "nos". Then, “lo and behold,” she writes, she got a yes.
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That first dinner, David writes, was “awkward and miserable, but mercifully quick.” Everyone ate as fast as they possibly could, and left, the children to do homework, Larry to his new home. But she persevered, and quite soon they were back to their former Sunday night ritual of Chinese takeaway, entitled, If It’s Sunday We Must Be Eating Chinese Food.
Developing a routine
Things got easier. The meals got longer, Larry even stayed for a movie one night. They took family dinners on the road; leaving the house to eat at local restaurants. Laurie lives in amused expectation of a gossip column mention of Larry being seen with a woman who closely resembles his ex-wife.
“During the most challenging time in my life, family dinner provided the space to reconnect with one another, to shore one another up, to remind us that we were okay,” she concludes. “The shared meal was the path in. Amen.”
Food reminds me that I'm coping
On weeks when things feel particularly exhausting, putting decent enough food on the table for my daughter is a source of great comfort. Making her a soup, her favourite banana muffins, a roast dinner of a Tuesday evening, something green, allows me to feel that I am coping.
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this letter's for you
On weeks when things have been overwhelming, going to someone else’s dinner table – my parents, my cousin, my best friend – has provided distraction, and the lovely feeling of not having to do it all yourself, of food being put in front of you that has been made by someone else.
A place to rebuild
Your own family dinner table is ground zero in the act of rebuilding your new normal. Your way back in. Saturday morning lazy pancake breakfasts, Sunday friends over for lunch. Monday morning kitchen chats, Sunday evening take-it-to-the-couch-with-a-movie takeaways. Christmas dinners and birthday celebrations. The simple act of eating pulling it all somehow together again.
It is the way to reshuffle the configuration of your family, when you’re still a family, even though certain members may not live under the roof any longer.