Memories can often be evoked with a first sniff or taste on the tongue or picture of a certain food. When I think about memories that bring me the most comfort, I realize many involve food because memories around meals or cooking often involve family or friends and those shared moments or experiences we have had together.
I will never forget my first time eating crab, knowing that I am not a fan of seafood. I was on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and had a whole crab put on my plate. A crab that was probably in the bay earlier that day, and the laughter of my parents at my facial expressions and my mom snapping pictures to document the moment.
When I punch down the raised dough of the Indiana State Fair Blue Ribbon-winning family recipe butter crescent rolls, getting ready to roll it out and shape the crescents for the next rise, it is a feeling of being surrounded by family since we typically only make them for holidays. And many memories of being in food halls and markets with loved ones, learning about foods from cultures around the world and tasting our way through the aisles. Because food shapes people, but people and cultures shape food.
Memories of times spent in the kitchen, around a dining table, or sharing food experiences are some of those that are most potent in my mind. But food cannot be separated from its social and cultural contexts, however, and not everyone has positive memories associated with their personal food when in a culture that does not share those same memories and experiences with it.
As Anthony Bourdain said, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
So, opening up kids’ eyes to foods that may be outside of their regular experiences can help create context for when they come across them in their lives. Whether that be years later or that same day in the school cafeteria with a classmate.
And there are some phenomenal picture books showing the universality of food experiences. Memories of food, making of food, or sharing of food. Some of these stories show times when perhaps one’s personal food culture is not known to others around them.
Many of these stories show the love and support of family and the time spent helping kids learn a family’s traditional dishes. Other stories show times when the special foods are shared with friends helping them to get to know each other and connect better. Most of these stories are about community and pride and sharing and love. Each of these stories can have their own impact, but taken as a whole, they can also create a powerful text set to bring into a classroom community.
Whether discovering new-to-you foods or old family comfort foods, each of these books has a worthy place in your #ClassroomBookADay rotation. And some of them may just be the book that helps a student see themselves in your read-alouds, and thus their place in your classroom.
*Though I wasn’t able to include it on the list because it is not yet published, I also want to highly recommend “Soul Food Sunday” to fit in with any food-themed text set or week of #ClassroomBookADay read-alouds you may share. Look for it to publish in Fall 2021.
Jillian Heise, NBCT and MLIS, is currently a K-5 Library Media Teacher in southeastern Wisconsin. She previously taught Grades 7 and 8 ELA in the Milwaukee area for 11 years. Jillian is the founder of #classroombookaday and dedicated to supporting all student identities and lived experiences through access to inclusive literature. She brings her literacy expertise and knowledge of kidlit to her role as Chair of the USRA Children's Literature Committee. You can find Jillian online at Heise Reads & Recommends and @heisereads.
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