Growing up, we each taught ourselves to bake as a means to enter into seemingly inaccessible communities, both inside and outside our homes. When we started talking about the ways that food kept us within the orbits of others’ lives, we found we had remarkably similar experiences.
We’d taught ourselves how to bake so we’d have social calling cards, an offering to our hosts who, we were sure, would regret including us unless we had something more desirable than ourselves to bring to the table. We’d show up with buttery, flaky pie crusts wrapping up gooey pies; with cookies pulled out of the oven at the perfect moment to achieve the perfect texture, the tops traced with perfect icing designs.
It evolved into a ritual, became expected. Madeleines to creative writing workshops, miniature tiered birthday cakes for friends. Breakfast foods carefully crafted, timed, and cleaned up afterwards to ensure that hosts wouldn’t regret letting us sleep on their couches. Our wildness, our clear starvation for security and kindness, was overlooked if we paid our dues and fed people in exchange for being welcomed.
Until (for Alysia) one Thanksgiving, when she forgot to put sugar in the pumpkin pie. Everyone was too nice to say anything until she asked someone directly what was wrong with it. The host opened two packets of Splenda over her piece and claimed it was just fine.
Until (for Eve), when she was living with a host family for the Peace Corps, and they refused to let her into the kitchen, refused to let her so much as make her own tea. The rules of being a guest in that culture required accepting welcome on its own terms if she wanted to please her host mother.
We’d thought we needed to buy our welcome, needed to distract our friends from ourselves with delicious edible gifts piled high. But what our friends wanted wasn’t our food. They wanted us.
This December, we’ll be exploring the theme of “Food and Family.” We want to read about how food serves a center of gravity for you and your community, how it allows you to create a chosen family or strengthen existing familial bonds. How does food bring you closer to those whom you love? How does it nourish you? How does it isolate you? We want you to explore all the ways food and family intersect in your lives—and then send us your best writing about what you discover.
We’re accepting essay submissions through Monday, September 30. You’ll find our full guidelines at and can submit through our Rumpus submission manager powered by Submittable.
Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick.