Saving Family Memories by Writing about Food

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

A New Writing Prompt Book by Dr. Darlene O'Dell

Besides its necessity for survival, food is wrapped into many of our deepest rituals, wrapped into times of sorrow and moments of joy, into weddings, funerals, first dates, break-ups, baseball games, road trips, and holidays. Furthermore, food engages our senses in profound ways. Think of the smell of popcorn, the sticky feel of bread dough, the sight of the bakery window lined with flamboyant cakes, the crunch of a corn chip, the taste of . . . most anything. Combine those senses with the most significant events in our lives and you will find memory and story.

I grew up in some of the food borderlands of the twentieth century American South, between the mill village café my grandfather ran, the pans of biscuits my grandmother baked daily, the rooted influence of indigenous and African cultures, the coming popularity of foods from other nations, my mother’s own disavowal—in the context of the women’s movement—of cooking as a measure of her motherhood, and the onslaught of processed and fast food. The stories surrounding these prompts reflect my history, but are intended to evoke your own stories around food.

Prompts, I believe, should do what storytelling around a fire or a kitchen table does—raise other stories, stories that build upon one another, that either tease out those moments we had forgotten or give room to those stories we have told over and again because in some mysterious way they define us.

Write your story about meals shared together.

Share your stories, write them down, leave them for your descendants (even those living centuries away in time). Speak to the generations, give them the details so that they will be able to experience your life at this moment in history as if it were their own. Explain to the ancestors, let them know you understood . . . or that you don’t. Either way, share their stories, too.

Write about meals shared with family long ago.

If writing in a community is helpful to you (we believe in the motto “because sometimes a little community helps”), then invite friends or family over and write around the table or go to a coffeehouse or library. Maybe you want to sit outdoors with the trees or curled up with your cat. However you choose to write, know that your story matters because your life matters, your time here on earth matters.

And know that your story helps the rest of us to understand our own.

~ Darlene O’Dell

To purchase Dr. Dar's latest prompt book, click here.

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