I’m currently reading The Seeker’s Guide by Elizabeth Lesser. It is a beautiful book about steps one can take to live a spiritually fulfilling life. In it, Lesser suggests viewing one’s own life as a hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell, of course, is credited with the most thorough description of the hero’s journey. It is a storytelling structure in which the hero feels compelled to travel away from home, experiences life-changing events that result in meaningful personal growth, and returns home to lead a life informed by this growth.
Our evolving relationship with the foods we loved as children can be indicators of our personal hero’s journeys.
Yesterday, I baked a Kentucky Butter Cake. It was my first attempt at the recipe and it turned out quite well (if I do say so myself). Eric enjoyed it and told me it reminded him of a pound cake his mother used to make. It was a touching moment for me, to know that something I baked could live up to his memories. Similarly, at Christmas, I baked an apple cake using my great-grandmother’s recipe that my grandmother had baked for my aunt and mother at the holidays. My mother said it tasted just like she remembered. And I’ve had the same experience myself. Not long ago, I was eating green beans at my mother’s house in Ohio and was instantly transported back to my childhood. My grandparents used to grow green beans and my grandmother would let me tear off the pointed ends while she wielded her sharp knife to peel apples or potatoes. There is something very unique about the flavor of Ohio green beans, and immediately the sense of security and peace that I had felt on those evenings with my grandmother washed over me.
I agree with Elizabeth Lesser’s assertion that it is important to view our lives as a hero’s journey or a mythic tale. The goal is not to romanticize our lives. Rather, the point is to rescue ourselves from the tendency to view our lives as mundane and to destroy our sense of wonder. In addition, because myths generally have to do with themes that have near universal resonance, viewing our lives as myths helps us to feel that others struggle just as we do, and that periods of difficulty and subsequent growth are integral to the human experience. As a result, we are likely to feel less isolated and more connected to those around us.
This applies to any and all aspects of our personal mythic tales – including our evolving relationships with food. Taste is very powerful when it comes to evoking memories. Eating foods we loved from childhood but haven’t had in years can serve as a reminder of where we were at the beginning of our journey and where we are now. It both brings to mind positive memories and – if we’ve experienced success in battling a difficult relationship with food – it can serve as a gold star to remind us of how far we’ve come. If we’re still learning to manage painful emotions around food, then those moments of pleasure we experience when eating something that reminds us of our childhood can act as gentle nudges that help us recall what it was like to enjoy food and encourage us to continue on with our hero’s journey.