from The Globe and Mail, June 27, 2009: “The authentic soul of Canada is the wilderness … A Canadian is someone who knows how to have sex in a canoe… If you want to feel truly Canadian, you’ve got to get out there and learn to paddle a canoe.”

I don’t know if any of the above is true, but I do know from spending a brief week last summer in the far southwest corner of Canada, that identity is all tied up in the water and the wilderness and the vessels that can safely take you from one point to the next. I personally hate canoeing – but I have never really considered what exactly cements my identity.

Is there something symbolic, some food, some task, some color, some hobby?

Consider this, from David Grossman, “The Age of Genius,” which appeared in the New Yorker, June 8 & 15, 2009:

“When I first heard about the life cycle of salmon, I felt that there was something very Jewish about it: that inner signal which suddenly resonates in the consciousness of the fish, bidding them to return to the place where they were born, the place where they were formed as a group. (There may also be something very Jewish in the urge to leave that homeland and wander all over the world – that eternal journey.)”

And later, in Saveur, in a story about Sheila Lukins, coauthor of The Silver Palate Cookbook: “Sheila’s love of cooking and her belief in its ability to enrich lives not only got her through tough situations – it was contagious.”

Food as a transmitter of identity, of experience, of relationship, of love – that’s not a novel concept but it is a true and powerful one. In feeding someone, in preparing a meal together and savoring the flavors, we are nourishing our souls.

Dana Goodyear wrote in “The Scavenger,” a New Yorker article¬†from November 9, 2009, “Interesting cuisine often comes out of poverty…serve some actual hunger people have, rather than something they tell themselves they must have.”

It’s no secret that culture and identity are conveyed through the foods we eat. Our lifelong preferences harken back to our earliest days. Our tendencies, our proclivities, our choices – they all represent deep-seated feelings and desires, the desire to be ok, the desire to be loved, the desire to be a part of something significant.

When I was in college and in love with John, we’d banter back and forth about identity and faith. “How can you be so Jewish if you don’t know anything about it?” he challenged one day in his rented room with shaggy brown carpet. Queensryche ballads played on the stereo. His electric guitar stood at repose under the bunkbed.

But it was not an honest question. I mean it was, but there is so much more to who we are than what we know.

And the food part of this – in children’s books, the greatest punishment a parent can bestow is to send a child to bed without supper. Why? Because there is no possibility of withholding love or money or sex, all the things we as adults toy with in an effort toward control and power. Children are pure and innocent and simple – and their need to receive love, and to give it, is vast.

My children have said simple things in moments of crisis. When I’ve felt sad or angry or frustrated or self-doubting, one of them will say, “Well then why are you fill-in-the-blank, Mommy? Do something else, befriend someone else, go somewhere else.” Simple. And true.

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