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Essays by Karen Anderson: Food Friends

Illustration by Kacie Brown

As a child, I heard my mother talking about food in human terms but I never thought much about it. We bought heads of lettuce and ears of corn. The potatoes had eyes and when the red potatoes came in, she would say, “I’m going to cook them in their little jackets.” Which meant, with the skins on.

We’re used to ascribing human qualities to our pets or other animals, but I just started noticing how we do this with food, too. I mentioned it to my husband and he immediately said, “a heel of bread.” Once we got started, the list grew. “Elbow macaroni.” “Artichoke hearts.” “Navel oranges.”

I wondered what this tendency signaled? Another kind of ownership, needing to stamp our human imprint on everything in nature? Or maybe it was to acknowledge a form of kinship, a connection with these familiar items that nourish our well-being. I confess I rather like thinking about the potatoes wearing little jackets.

And it reminded me of the richness of language, how it helps us to describe and understand our lives. I see no evidence that other creatures, including fruits and vegetables and loaves of bread, seem to need words. In fact, they’re probably laughing at us. I hope so.

“Kidney beans,” my husband said. “Black-eyed peas.”

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.