catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 16 :: 2010.09.10 — 2010.09.23


Learning to cook alone

When I left my intentional community at the end of this summer, I thought I was entering heaven — to live alone, at last. After a year of sharing space, food, money, and even a collective name (“let’s invite the volunteer house,” or “maybe the volunteer house wants to come over for dinner”), I was no longer a unit, but my own person. Just Hillary. No more sharing the bathroom or wiping down tables that I had not made dirty.

Most of all, I couldn’t wait to eat my first meal. For months, I had been groaning through dinners of baked spaghetti and split pea soup. Every time I looked at the bucket of fake butter in the fridge, I’d been reminding myself, “Wait until you move out. You can buy whatever kind of butter you want.”

Yet, when I made that monumental first trip to the grocery store, I was confused. What kind of jelly did Hillary buy? I stopped short in the produce section, wondering, Do I like grapefruit? I was pretty sure the answer was no, but I bought one anyway. It had been a popular item in my community house, and so it seemed to belong in the fridge, even if it didn’t seem to belong inside my mouth. As I reached for the salsa, I hesitated. Does a Hillary prefer mild salsa or medium? I had always resisted spicy foods, but my old community had redefined my understanding of “spicy.” My impulse was to stock up on black beans, a common dinner base in my old house, but I had to stop and consider: How many black beans does a Hillary eat?

I didn’t know how to quantify myself. How large do I make a meal, if it’s only for one person? I only knew that I ate less than a Cameron, more than a Sarah if it was cookies, but less than a Jennie if it was pasta.

A month after leaving, I still sometimes find myself in the grocery store, reaching for a food as if reaching for the memory of my community. I eat grapefruit not because I like it, but because I like the people who like it. I like the community it brings me, to split a grapefruit with a friend at breakfast. The discipline of living in community has left me with the habit of compromise, of switching between brown eggs and white eggs, between what I love and what others love. I hope it is a habit that does not die easy. Even though I am a self-proclaimed picky eater, I like sitting down at a table — my own or someone else’s — with food I would not choose for myself. It reminds me that I am not only what I eat, but I am who I eat. When I eat in community, I become community. Sharing a meal is almost a human kind of communion. We take and eat of each other’s worlds, lives and taste buds. And we are the richer for it.

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