I share my soul in food. It’s a trait I learned from my mother, and my grandmother, and everyone I’ve known in my life. Food speaks for us when words won’t. Food means I’m sorry, it means congratulations, it means I’m here and I love you.
Our neighbor brings us crawfish every spring - he heard that my mother is allergic to the seasoning all the local restaurants use, and crafted his own that she can eat. He carries over platters full every week, still steaming and ruby red, ready for us to feast.
We return the platters with homemade cobblers and bread in return, or seafood fettuccine made with leftovers. Equivalent exchange. I care, it says, I care about you, I want to care for you.
When I was a child, we visited my grandparents every Saturday, and every Saturday, my grandmother woke up early to make the best pancakes I’ve ever had, dripping with butter. At Christmas, the spare bedroom would be filled with candies and fudge. She isn’t with me anymore, but I still smell buttery pancakes and stained-glass cinnamon sugar candy when I think of her. My aunt still makes her pralines and peanut butter fudge every year at Christmas, and silently, we say: you’re still here. We still remember you. You’ll never be far away.
I try to make gumbo in an apartment in Florida. I can’t find tasso, or andouille sausage, such common things in my hometown, seven hundred miles away. The roux I make isn’t dark enough, and it splits. “I did it all wrong,” I say in tears on the phone with my father, but what I want to say is, I miss you, I love you. I miss home. I want to come home please. The first thing I ask for when I do make it back to Louisiana is poboys and gumbo. These are the foods that mean safety and love, that mean home.
A family friend dies, and my mother begins to cook. Something simple and filling, easy to reheat or freeze. Something warm and comforting during the darkest times. Something that says I know it hurts, I know it’s too hard to think about cooking, let me ease this burden in some small way. We can’t make things better, only a little easier.
The same goes for weddings, moves, births, and everything in between. When there are no more words to say, food fills in the gaps, an offering of love when love is what’s needed most.
Jesse Gabriel (they/he) is a queer writer and photographer from South Louisiana, with an academic background in literature and creative writing. Horror and queer literature are their favorite genres, and they draw from their own experiences for much of their writing.