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Remembering with Food

Note: This is written based on my understanding of the Day of the Dead celebration. No offense is intended, and my apologies if I got anything wrong.

I don’t remember when I first learned about the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, celebrated at the beginning of November, which includes the tradition of making the favorite foods of loved ones who’ve died, but I’ve always thought it was a lovely idea. After all, we connect so much around food, with traditions shared among family and friends, and we use it to expression affection. Why not continue that as a way of remembrance for those we’ve lost?

So I used the holiday as inspiration when I held memorial gatherings for my mom, five and then ten years after her death. My idea was that family and friends would gather to share memories and a meal of the foods Mom loved. The trick, of course, was remembering what she did love.

My brother recalled her fondness for raspberry ginger ale. My dad remembered shepherd’s pie and green beans. My aunt thought of the French-Canadian dish tourtiere. I knew how much she enjoyed corn (both on the cob and popped) despite her allergies, and that animal crackers were a staple snack in her classroom. One friend remembered love of peppers, and another of fiddleheads. Most everyone knew that raspberries were pretty much at the top of the list.

Sharing the foods triggered more memories. We reminisced about blueberry-picking adventures, visits to our favorite restaurant for deep-dish pizza and cheesy garlic bread, learning to make pancakes without milk (replace it with apple juice and hold the sugar), efforts to keep raccoons away from the corn in the garden, snapping green beans for canning, and more.

It made me realize that this is what I want food to be for me: not something to gobble as quickly as possible, or to feel guilty about, but rather a joyful, memorable experience that connects me to others.

And I couldn’t help thinking how vastly different this type of approach is when compared to Halloween, with the bags of mass-produced candy and treats handed out to random strangers coming to your door.

Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing cute kids in costume, especially creative ones, and it can certainly be fun to dress up, hang out with friends, etc. But when it comes to feeding ghosts of any kind, I prefer the Day of the Dead approach, finding warmth and nourishment in both the food and the memories.

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