Emissary of Emotion
Incorporeal, exotic, complex, emotions are an inescapable part of life, the foundation of human interaction. In an attempt to convey the mosaic of feelings constantly changing, we turn to mediums of expression. Food, specifically, is a uniquely diverse form of expression used constantly to represent emotions. Several distinctively singular works offer an opportunity to discover just how symbolic food has become in life. Raymond Carver’s A Small, Good Thing illustrates how food plays an important role for the grieving husband and wife, Ann and Howard Weiss, after the horrific loss of their young son, Scotty. Likewise, in A Change in Comfort written by Lindsay Watts, macaroni and cheese acts as a prescription of comfort through the traumatic times of her life. A change in tempo is brought about by Megan Libby in her piece Nana Banana Cream Pie where a lighthearted portrait of family interconnectedness is established through the sharing of a special banana cream pie made by a beloved family member.
Authors Carver, Watts, and Libby uniquely exemplify the inescapable role food plays in life. By using food to express the vacillating emotions present day to day, all five senses are recruited to decipher the complex feelings one wishes to express. Food has become the emissary of emotion, the physical manifestation of feelings to be recognized by others.
Strong familial emotions, such as love and togetherness, are often propagated during special celebratory occasions. Birthdays are one such occasion where family members endeavor to dedicate an entire day to a person, such as Scotty’s mother did for him in Carver’s A Small, Good Thing when “she ordered chocolate [cake], the child’s favorite” (202). With a drive to make her son feel special, Ann customized Scotty’s cake and chose a flavor she knew to be her son’s favorite to make his birthday even more special. Similarly, in Libby’s Nana Banana Cream Pie, during the Christmas holiday in the face of her nana’s pie “it as if we have gained a new-found togetherness… [the pie] provides us all with a connection, something that we can all share and love together.” The cake in Carver’s story and the banana cream pie depicted by Libby embody the love and connection Anna and Libby’s nana harbor for their family, so they created a dish they knew the recipients would heartily enjoy. The food, a tangible creation, was a physical representation of the transcendent love and togetherness the presenter felt towards their family and served to further connect everyone together.
Compassion, empathy, sorrow—food has the power to convey the depths of emotions unspoken among those who wish to offer a piece of themselves in recognition of difficult times. During emotional trauma, it is often the small offerings of consolation that are the most comforting, as when Lindsay Watts recalls a time when “[macaroni and cheese] comes to [her] rescue” after her father passes away in A Change in Comfort. Her mother had made the dish, knowing full well how much Watts enjoyed macaroni and cheese, by acknowledging her grieving through a small show of a food offering. The baker in Carver’s story provides a similar act of condolence for the grieving parents when he offers them food saying, “I don’t have any children myself…I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this” (217-218). Although the baker doesn’t completely understand the grief felt by the parents, as he has no children himself, he offers them the fruits of his labor from the bakery. A simple offering of warm rolls or comforting macaroni and cheese is a small act that speaks volumes. Parallel to saying, ‘I’m here, I understand you are hurting’ without uttering a word, giving food to someone is to share emotion with them. Carver and Watts portray instances in which food physically represents emotions left unspoken.
Beyond the forthright feelings a dish embodies, it must be considered that creating emotional dishes requires a depth of both physical and emotional commitment. In each instance—the cake from Ann, Libby’s banana cream pie, Watts’ macaroni and cheese, the baker’s warm rolls— the dishes created and presented were done so with a depth of devotion usually overlooked by the receiver. Ann took time out of her day to visit the bakery and customize a cake specifically for her son to enjoy (Carver 204). Libby worked with her nana and discovered all the simple, yet critical steps required “to make the dessert at all.” While cooking macaroni and cheese, Watts discovered “doing it [her]self proved a little bit more difficult than [she] had originally anticipated.” Finally, the baker during the end of Carver’s story revealed that he spent all night, every night, working in the kitchen to produce his baked goods (204). Regardless of the situation, each dish required a deeper level of commitment, both physically and emotionally, to create. Ann’s desire for a satisfactory birthday cake required her to take time and effort to create the perfect cake, while Libby discovered the meticulous detail required for a perfect pie. Watts realized creating macaroni and cheese was more difficult than she initially believed, while the baker was prepared to spend hours working on his baked goods to later present to his buyers. Such selfless acts in forfeiting time and energy underlying each dish leads to previously unrecognized depth of emotion. In fully understanding the energy, effort, time, and selfless dedication required to create a food, one is better capable of grasping the full extent of emotion a dish encompasses.
Through examining the three uniquely distinct works of Carver, Libby, and Watts, a physical representation of emotion is exemplified through the presentation of food. When one party wishes to express some depth of emotion, food is oftentimes the most diverse of gifts which can represent love, understanding, and even words left unspoken. By selflessly dedicating time, energy and effort into dishes presented during emotional moments in life, emotions that are intangible are given corporeal form and texture to be delved into one bite at a time.
Carver, Raymond. “A Small, Good Thing.” Where I’m Calling From. Vintage, 1989, pp.
Libby, Megan. “Nana Banana Cream Pie.” http://mlibby3.uneportfolio.org/2017/02/26/nana-
banana-cream-pie/. Accessed 26 March 2017
Watts, Lindsay. “A Change in Comfort.” http://lwatts2.uneportfolio.org/favorite-meal/. Accessed
26 March 2017