There are few things in life that stay with you long enough to leave a lasting impression on you. There are even fewer things in life that stay with you forever, even when you don’t want them to (no, this is not another post about millennials living with their parents). Looking back at my childhood, sifting through the encrypted memories to find the root causes of my adulthood failures, I’ve found maize to have the most regular appearance in the background of the rest of the drama of my life. The harried breakfasts that consisted of porridge doused in milk and sugar, laced with margarine. The tearful suppers when I didn’t want to eat tomato skins because they looked sharp enough to slide into my throat lining but I learned how to hide them inside my rolled up pap and it was an added benefit to learn how to swallow without chewing (food inhalation is a skill). After years of having pap for breakfast lunch and supper, I inevitably rejected this staple when my inner rebellion began. Anything corn was banished from my life with any flimsy excuse I could come up with. I even made new friends who didn’t like pap.
Now, as I rediscover corn and appreciate its nutritional value, rivalled only by its long history next to the human species and in my personal life; “something old” becomes something ageless.
After watching a few documentaries and learning about humans killing the planet, I decided to take responsibility for all the animals that my choices had killed. I decided to end my passive killing spree by converting to Vegetarianism. In the first couple of months, my head was a giant panic button. Whenever the thought of food came up (every 21 seconds), I would contemplate my decision to abandon all the protein in the world. Thankfully, my carnivorous ignorance came to an end gradually and I discerned a whole new world of food. From legumes to other, more exotic sources of protein that we don’t have time to expand on right now. Still, being a veggie didn’t manage to reopen my eyes to the magic of corn but this “something new” did manage to pave the way a more accepting palate.
A meal is more than just a plate of food. A meal is an experience that your subconscious will remember long after your teeth have fallen out and you need an assisted living facility when all you can eat is liquid butternut. Childhood meals leave the longest lasting impressions and one of my suppressed memories (meals) is pap and mince. Pap, cooked until it collects into one big white, grainy mound on your plate. Mince, made into a thick brown gravy and if you’re feeling exploratory, mixed vegetables add a healthy dimension.
Now, as you may have guessed, I haven’t been able to realign my inner childhood memory with this meal because I’m a vegetarian BUT, some weeks ago, someone I trust suggested that I try soya mince. The boxed kind from Pick n Pay. I have to emphasise the trust because if anyone else had suggested it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Generally, I’m not a fan of anything that TRIES to be meat. I’ve had a few scares since becoming a vegetarian and you don’t want to sit through a meal wondering if you’re eating something that had a life, a family. However, after experimenting with different ways of cooking the soya mince, I finally found the right combination of flavours and textures to light up those forgotten regions of my brain that can only be turned on by my food experiences. So, even though soya mince may have “borrowed” its name and texture from mince, it still tastes *beep* good.
Do you ever have those days when no one gets you? When you try and share your thoughts with the world and the world turns its back on you? When I have those days (more often than you’d realize, what with my outgoing personality and easy glamour…), I turn to food. Good, home cooked, comfort food. For a long time, that food has been exclusively pasta, rice or bread. Unfortunately, the effects of their comfort wears off quickly and I’m forced to cook something else, with even more starch. Until now. Having pap, with all the memories attached and the starchy goodness that has blessed so many generations before me, I feel at peace with the world for much longer. Having pap is an intimate affair for me, see, I eat it with my hands and this comes naturally to me. Engaging with my food is as important as preparing it. In short, whenever I’m feeling “something blue”, I know that I can turn to corn. As I open my bag of tortilla chips and prepare my oven for the nachos, I soak my pap pot in hot water and wonder where my depression went…
Upon accepting that my stomach is betrothed to corn, I have gained a new excitement about food which I never thought possible. As I look to the future, a long life awaits those two and they have my full blessing.