I come from a long line of people who believe in the curative powers of food. My father was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in the 1920s and his mother was a healer. His mother’s mother, too. They believed in eating for one’s wellbeing, to strengthen and fortify and enrich the body by eating particular things. Iraqi Jews of that time also believed in eating by color: yellow fruits and vegetables for happiness, rose petals for love, and no black or unlucky foods, such as the skin of eggplants. When my father came to the United States, he was forced to abandon his family, his Jewish faith, his national pride, and so food and the flavors of his childhood were the way he reestablished a home in New York, replicating his mother’s recipes.
Growing up, the smell of his cooking is my strongest memory: of cumin and cardamom and cloves. There was nothing processed in our home: no sandwich meats or soda or chips or, heaven forbid, gummy fruit snacks. There was no cough syrup during cold season. There was ginger and garlic and terribly smelly teas. Notions of how to properly nourish the body were innate to him: drinking room-temperature liquids to avoid shocking the system, well-spiced stews to warm the limbs, and lots of citrus to cleanse were things that he did intuitively, without fanfare or explanation—and how I learned to eat, and live. In a way, the two are inextricable: we eat in order to live. It’s the most obvious thing in the world. And yet I think that a childhood like mine, with such emphasis placed on eating for one’s wellbeing, is likely to turn out a person particularly attuned to that connection—and to food generally, which I am.
It’s probably unsurprising then that I wrote a book, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, in which food is at the core in myriad ways. It’s how the characters make connections, make money, make the days pass, make meaning. It is how they grow, both physically and emotionally, and it is how they fight against sadness, against death. I didn’t realize that until I finished writing, but now I see it and feel that it has everything to do with the way I was raised: eating for more than sustenance—for wellbeing, for life.