Feeding Us Home

Love and Food in Family Separation
Shanley Knox

Food is like fingerprints.

Complex.
Unique to the individual.
Shifted by experience.

We aren’t born into taste. We discover it, researchers say, through its sensory properties, anticipated consequences, or ideas about where it came from. Maybe discovering food is a lot like finding love. Or, that’s just how we did it.

It all started with Osteria Santo Spirito in Florence, when I told the guy behind me in line to try the truffle gnocchi.

“That stuff will change your life.”

Labor strikes had grounded flights that night--including mine. Tables were crowded.
A waitress came by to ask if we would sit together to cut down our wait time.

There are a thousand ways to reach for a stranger in the cadence of a dimly lit night far from home. I’d been doing it for years, usually pretending or acting on pretense. But that night, we talked incessantly, and honestly, about food. What we hated. What we loved. What we knew. What we missed.

“Ever had faloodeh?” he asked me. “My mother fed it to me and put me under the stairwell the day the bombs came in, my last day in Iran.” More haunting than Proustian, he told me it was his last taste of home.

Maybe it was fate. Or, maybe it’s because food is connected to our limbic system and triggers dopamine release, but I was in love with him by the end of the night.

Two weeks later, I would get on a nervous flight from JFK to see him in Montreal. Three months later, I’d take him home to meet my family.

I hail from California Americana steeped in pecan pies, football coaches, and believers in the holy ghost who loves the sinner, but hates the sin. I had told him they weren’t racist. But they didn’t waste any time partitioning across culinary lines.

“Did you grow up eating with your hands?” upon meeting him.
“Whatever’s cooking smells terrible, my stomach can’t handle it,” as he cooked.
“Guacamole is wrong at Christmas,” in response to his hors d'oeuvres ideas.

I was an unplanned five months pregnant when I met my mother-in-law, with a basketball-sized bump and voracious appetite. She seemed equally concerned and thrilled about us--concerned about her son moving to the US, but thrilled that I could house her spiciest buttered chicken with the best of them.

In between conversations about immigration and Iran, she fed me pesto and tadik, homemade hummus and kofteh. “That baby is Armenian,” she’d say when I tried to turn down extra Soorj. “He loves caffeine.”

CREDIT: IMAGE OF AUTHOR’S MOTHER IN LAW ON THE CASPIAN SEA, COURTESY OF AUTHOR

She wasn’t far off. Taste and odor, a team at the Universidad Nacional Auto noma de Mexico reports, feeds into the insular cortex and the amygdala, parts of the mind responsible for present-moment awareness, emotions, survival instincts, and memory. My son was, I knew, also made up of her. Of juniper, almond, barberry, and cotoneaster from Ahvaz, and spice trade in Yerevan. Of orchards in Tehran where she gave birth to my husband. Of Persian Enqelāb-e Eslāmī, revolution, and the smell of the Caspian sea.

By December, all visa applications were voided in light of the administration’s releasing newly designed forms in the new year, and my husband, still a tourist, became a father. He would leave just six weeks later to wait for paperwork in Canada, where he’d spend months, stuck, watching our newborn turn into a chubby baby in between flights and FaceTime.

I couldn’t change immigration. But, I infused rice cereal with turmeric and made my grandmother’s potato salad recipe gold and pink, red and fatty, with cumin, bacon, and paprika. I learned to grill Pakistani chicken a friend marinated in spices from Karachi, and make baby food from sheep’s milk feta with lentils and saffron.

By the time his dad landed in JFK, I could get my chunky 6-month-old to eat anything by peppering it with garam masala.

That weekend, we’d find faloodeh at a little Iranian restaurant across the park from our new Brooklyn apartment.

“Tastes like my mom’s,” he said quietly. “Like home.”

He turned to me and smiled.

“Like us.”

Shanley Knox
Sign up for Our Newsletter
Will be used in accordance with our PRIVACY POLICY.
CULINARY PARTNER FEATURE
Meet Belqui of Belqui's Twist
HEALTH & WELLNESS
Demystifying the Gluten-Free Diet
LEARN COOK EAT
Your Go-To Apple Cider Guide
TRIED & TESTED
Reimaged Rosh Hashanah Dinner
WHAT'S IN SEASON
What’s in Season in September, and How to Cook It
WHAT TO READ THIS WEEK
How to Care for Your Dutch Oven
CELEBRATE, HOST, ENTERTAIN
Buffalo Chicken Dip: Shareable, Scalable, Delicious
TRIED & TESTED
The Inside Scoop: How to Make Edible Cookie Dough
TRIED & TESTED
Making McDonalds Keto: An Inclusive Filet-O-Fish Sandwich
TRIED & TESTED
Making Auntie Anne Proud: Baking Soda to Butter Baths
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Plant Based Milk: Five Facts, Five Recipes
TRIED & TESTED
Unwrapping the Crunchwrap: Homemade Taco-Bell in the time of Corona
CULINARY PARTNER FEATURE
Meet Belqui of Belqui's Twist
Empowering cooks everywhere to always cook from the heart.
HEALTH & WELLNESS
Demystifying the Gluten-Free Diet
From celiac disease to gluten intolerance, there are plenty of reasons to learn about where exactly this substance is found and how to better manage your intake!
LEARN COOK EAT
Your Go-To Apple Cider Guide
A delicate blend of sweet and tart, delicious when served hot or cold, apple cider is the perfect versatile fall drink! Here's how to make your own all season long.
TRIED & TESTED
Reimaged Rosh Hashanah Dinner
Rosh Hashanah dinner is a time to come together to celebrate and eat! This recipe is full of meaning and meant to be shared. With the salmon's delicious, gluten allergy-friendly pistachio coating, and a fun twist on an Apple and Honey with a Salad - this dish will be an instant holiday classic.
WHAT'S IN SEASON
What’s in Season in September, and How to Cook It
A list of fruits and vegetables in season in September alongside recipe recommendations.
WHAT TO READ THIS WEEK
How to Care for Your Dutch Oven
Tips for keeping your dutch oven in tip-top shape and our favorite recipes to make in them.
CELEBRATE, HOST, ENTERTAIN
Buffalo Chicken Dip: Shareable, Scalable, Delicious
The beloved dish from Buffalo, NY evolves into a dip, and now transforms into the perfect sliders.
TRIED & TESTED
The Inside Scoop: How to Make Edible Cookie Dough
A look inside my head at the recipe development behind the pantry perfect (and gluten free!) dessert.
TRIED & TESTED
Making McDonalds Keto: An Inclusive Filet-O-Fish Sandwich
On recreating McDonald's iconic Fish Filet sandwich
TRIED & TESTED
Making Auntie Anne Proud: Baking Soda to Butter Baths
Making Auntie Anne's soft pretzels can be pretty hard. My journey from basic mall rat to an at-home culinary scientist.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Plant Based Milk: Five Facts, Five Recipes
In honor of World Plant Milk Day, we're sharing some knowledge around milk alternatives and some recipes to make your own at home.
TRIED & TESTED
Unwrapping the Crunchwrap: Homemade Taco-Bell in the time of Corona
Bring the drive-thru to your kitchen with this customizable riff on a Taco Bell classic.
You're one smart cookie! 🍪
By using this site, you agree to the use of cookies by SideChef and our partners for analytics and personalized content. ACCEPT
SideChef: 18k Recipes, Meal Planner, Grocery List, Personalization
INSTALL APP
Make cooking easy
Discover personalized recipes, organize your meal plans, shop ingredients, and cook with confidence alongside our FREE, step-by-step cooking app.