After WWII, Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s grandmother foraged and grew whatever food she could to feed her young daughter, Kazuko. Kazuko lived and learned to forage to survive, too. After she moved to the US, food forged a similar bond with her daughter, Marie Mutsuki. As Marie Mutsuki Mockett suggests in an essay for Elle, preparing food for other people nourishes bonds as well as the body, and these connections endure for generations. “Unlike so much in our lives that’s now transactional,” Mockett writes, “the making of food is elemental. It makes the cells that constitute the body and keep us clinging to life. I wonder how many problems in the world can be attributed to this lack of understanding: To make food for others from start to finish is to follow through in our commitment to each other.” Now the pandemic has shut Mockett’s mother’s facility off to visitors, and cut off her deliveries of food, she assesses how to live without shared meals and the role they have played in their lives.
When I was 19, I had pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week. While my fever raged and the antibiotics fought to clear my lungs, I refused to eat. The spaghetti and lasagna cooked up by the hospital kitchen turned my stomach. All I wanted was rice and seaweed: Japanese soul food.
After the final fever broke, my mother arrived with three plastic containers. One had rice. Another held pickled sour plums she had made with fruit grown in her garden. A third held ground beef carefully seasoned. “You’ll get better now,” she grinned as she fed me by hand. And I did. My body reconstituted itself out of her nourishment. Even now, when I am sick, I yearn for those flavors.
Back at the nursing home, before the world shut down to combat a pandemic, the social worker talked to us about how we might plan for my mother’s return home: “You’ll need to either use an assisted living facility, or hire care,” she said to my mother, “That way, you can keep your relationship with your daughter as mother and daughter.” This is what people in the medical field tell the elderly and the dying. It’s a way of suggesting that our bonds with our loved ones should remain purely emotional, as though two people can distill the most important aspects of how they interact, the way cream is spooned out from milk, and leave the rest of the work for others to do. But while it’s one thing to accept help with incontinence, bathing, and medication, I stumble over the idea of letting someone else decide what my mother will eat.