Growing an appetite for life: Loving and healing through food

Under the Arch

Growing an appetite for life: Loving and healing through food


Food is sustenance in more ways than one.


Sasha DuBose, Staff Writer | March 31, 2024

Sasha DuBose, in a blue apron and purple slippers, standing by a refrigerator and holding a white pot.

My mom recently texted me a baby photo where I was shoving cereal in my mouth, calling me her “best eater baby.” There isn’t a photo of me under the age of 5 where I’m not shoving something into my mouth — whether it be a piece of cake or Cheerios. I ate my way through adolescence, working my way up from making box brownies to writing recipes of my own. Flash forward 22 years and I’m currently wrapping up my food studies degree, for which I eat, read and write about cuisines all over the globe.


My studies easily find their way into my daily life. Some days, I’m getting down to the minutiae of how I make my tea so I can describe it in a memoir. Other days, I’m sharing recipes from my labs with my friends. I have a cookbook collection that would make even the most ardent foodies weak in the knees, and I host lavish dinner parties your favorite food blogger would envy.


For me, sharing a meal with someone is personal. It’s just as intimate as having sex. Not everyone gets to eat me, and eating with me is even more exclusive. I am more likely to share my body with someone than I am to share my kitchen.


My dorm kitchen is small but mighty, and the lack of storage and counter space means that only I can make sense of things. Assorted bottles of olive oil are scattered next to small jars of sugars and spices. My cabinets are crammed with four types of honey, multiple cutting boards and more plastic drinking cups than I can count. My stove, armed with my LeCreuset dutch oven, stands guard, ready for my next creation. I cook my cultural foods the most. African American food is everything to me, from collards to cornbread. Cooking my food for someone is serving up a slice of myself.


I know food is fundamental to my relationships, but a breakup with a long-term partner forced me to grapple with this in new ways. When I left my relationship, I left the kitchen at the same time. I barely cooked for anyone, not even for myself. My collection of cookbooks began to gather dust on my shelf.


I shared a lot of my favorite meals with my ex. From complex dinners that took hours, to surprisingly delicious hodgepodge lunches, the meals we shared were what made our love so strong. When everything ended, my relationship with food — and myself — flipped on its head.


Coming back to myself post-breakup meant returning to the kitchen. It took courage to cook for myself again, but connecting with my grief through cooking has produced some of my tastiest dishes. The kitchen held my heartbreak when my journal couldn’t. I’ve cried into countless curries, stews and soups. In fact, the best egg curry I made was the one where I was hysterically sobbing while peeling the eggs. The kitchen became a safe haven for my newly-single self.


Once I could cook for myself without shedding a tear, I started hosting again. From having friends over for weeknight dinners to preparing two whole fish for a dinner party, I was back in my element. I created my fish recipe with my ex-partner, but it was too good to never make again, so I reclaimed it and made it my own. My friends and followers on my food blog raved over my rendition of the dish, calling me the whole fish queen.


My ability to connect with people through food rekindled my desire to start dating again. I’ve been in and out of long-term partnerships for the past four years, so when I started dating, I bonded with people the best way I knew how — with food. When I meet someone for the first time, I ask about their cuisine.


To know someone is to know their food. When I invited a girl over to my apartment for the first time, I made her chai so she could feel at home. I don’t have a chai recipe. Luckily for me, I learned how to make chai by watching my best friend make it in their quaint Broome Street kitchen two years ago. The memory of us at the stove together is one I cherish and recreate for those I care about.


At the same time, nothing gives me more anxiety than cooking for dates. I was shaking while pouring the milk and choosing the spices — I knew if I messed this up, there would likely be no chance of a second date. I simply eyeballed the milk and spices, and crossed my fingers hoping that everything would turn out alright.


My current lover wanted to come over and read some of my cookbooks for their research, and I offered to make us dinner. I was recipe testing for a conference I’m going to in April, polishing up a dish I had only made once before. In response, they offered to do my prep work for me — which is a one-way ticket into any home cook’s heart.


To have my date prep my okra stew for me, just so I could focus on the cooking, made me feel cherished, because someone showed me care through the same medium that I do. The final dish was the best okra stew I’ve made. We ate together, and conquered a mountain of dishes at 3 a.m. before passing out.


Sharing food with others opened me up to the fact that life goes on. I ate my way through my last relationship, so it only makes sense that I’m eating my way through healing too. Every dinner party, every potluck, every “let’s order multiple things and share,” is how I see the beauty in others around me and myself. Connecting with people through food may not solve all of my problems, but bite by bite, my appetite for life grows.


Contact Sasha DuBose at [email protected]