Food takes up a big part of our lives, what we eat daily differs from what we eat on special occasions, eating alone differs from eating with others, romantic dinner differs from a quick bite we grab on our way to work, neither is better than the other but all of those meals carry meanings and express different rituals.
Food and family
A typical visit to my grandma's involves hugs, laughs, a few Russian songs and of course a good meal together, the leftovers of which have to be meticulously shared and brought home. Grandma's invitations to come over always start with "I'm making pancakes/soup/chicken.. come!". For a while I couldn't understand this obsession with making "enough" food for the whole family which would always mean too much food (and laying down on the couch for a few hours to digest it). Until I realised that I had the luxury to not understand it, to not have lived through war and times with practically no food on the table. To have enough food is to have security, to cook for your loved ones is one of the ways to show how much you care, even when your guests are unable to move after a feast like that and swear to never overeat again.
Food and travel
Some of my greatest travel memories, from South Korea to Morocco, involve sitting around a table and sharing food. Eating something without being able to identify it, just immersing into a mixture of smells and flavours. Locals showing their best and favourite dishes, reciting stories, gossips and legends and laughing together even if there's no common language to understand each other. Food creates this universal way of communicating, where the common appreciation serves as a bridge between individuals. We might be coming from completely different cultures and backgrounds but the expression on our face (or the uncontrollable sounds of chewing) when we're enjoying a dish is global. Instead of checking tripadvisor or google reviews for recommendations, asking locals to take you out and even order for you (and then laugh at your inability to properly eat the dishes) is one of the best things while traveling.
Food and conversations
Have you noticed how the busiest place in a house party is sometimes the smallest of the rooms - the kitchen? In Lithuania we say that the best conversations happen in the kitchen, especially after midnight. Usually around some food, drinks and a cigarette. Story goes that during Soviet occupation people would gather in tiny kitchens that all looked pretty much the same (hello communism) and with a bottle of vodka on the table complain about the regime later followed by some poetry, songs and inappropriate jokes. I grew up in a house with a tiny kitchen, where sometimes five people would squeeze themselves in between a sewing machine, an old fridge and a forest of tomato sprouts. Cramped - yes, but that was the place for the best stories and laughs. Kitchen is the meeting point of food and conversations, of romance and domesticity, of extraordinary and routine.
We are creatures of rituals. Things unsaid are often more important than the ones we can find words for. Our actions speak more than our declarations. We bake a cake for someone when we want to say "I care for you", we cook some soup for a friend that's sick - "I'm here for you", we invite someone for lunch - "I want to get to know you". Invitation for a coffee is different from an invitation for a drink, which is different from an invitation for a dinner (especially if you're going on a date). Food is how we communicate meaning without necessarily needing to find adequate words.
Now my grandma is almost over 90 years old and because of her shaky hands she has a hard time preparing the food by herself, yet she keeps inviting the whole family to eat together. And I am constantly reminded that food is one of the greatest expressions of care, love and connection.