May, 2021
Short story of a tropical Lebanon
Adriana David

Grandma’s kitchen always had a mystical atmosphere. The only natural light in the space that came from a very high up window, touched the dark wood cabinets with an intense theatrical light, mixed with dust and smoke from the stove. It was full of things all around. There was never any free space in the fridge and on the counters, without exception, one could find something tasty to snack, such as dates or Ma’amoul cookies. It was really entertaining for me, although other members of the family didn’t find it as pleasant. The truth is that both grandmother and aunt Salma have perpetually been at the limit of a hoarding disorder. The kitchen, more than a diaphanous and impeccable space, seemed like a collection of food packages from the XX century. The center countertop was a very wide island, with two levels to place things, which I found pretty useful. The first level was designed at a dining height of 75 cm, so anyone who came to the kitchen to help out could sit on one of the stools and work. The second level, at about 90 cm from the floor, was used to place dishes ready to be served. It was a beautiful pyramid of cooking processes. Entering gave me a feeling of love and hate. Hate, because the room had the worst ventilation of the house - and when you are in a place with 35º C and 95% humidity, the last thing you want is to feel enclosed in between four walls. - Love, because I never knew what I was going to find.

Due to lack of fresh air, few people were able to remain there for long hours, sweat and confusion were certainly included when one entered the kitchen; while my grandma Fadua remained intact, like an oak, immaculate, serene, and committed to her kitchen incessantly. Of course, she was born and raised in this tropical town of the Mexican Southern border, in Acapetahua, Chiapas.

One of my favorite moments of that kitchen, was when all the David aunts of the neighborhood gathered together to prepare the delicious Lebanese dishes for the holidays. Aunt Salma placed the meat grinder on the counter and while one aunt was grinding the lamb to cook the splendid Kibbeh Bil Saniyeh, the others were chopping onions, spearmint, pine nuts, and chili to add some flavor to the stuffing. I actually thought that my family's recipes were the most traditional of Lebanese food, the classic keppe bola or raw keppe, the jocoque, the tabulé; until years later, for grandma’s 80th birthday. For the first time, all the women of the family traveled to Lebanon to meet the part of the tribe that stayed on that side of the world in 1905. As we stepped into their home in Beirut we immediately had the feeling we were entering any of our aunts’ house in Mexico. It really struck me that, despite being thousands of kilometers and two generations apart, the spaces managed to have the same character. I really can’t explain it, but the smell, the objects, the colors, the touch, every domestic element of the interior, made us feel as if we had known those places forever. We all truly felt at home. Even if we couldn’t communicate -when Uncle Manuel and his four brothers arrived in Mexico, they left their native language behind- we all knew how to interact and how to move in that space. It was a very profound feeling of belonging.

We were surely happy in that territory, ready to tour the entire city, visit the ancestors’ towns, and devour all the food in the markets and restaurants of the area until we set foot in the first restaurant. The illusion of kinship vanished when we were unable to recognize anything on the menu. It was a completely different language, we could not find our beloved Keppe, nor our precious Jocoque. Just as we managed to find our favorite dishes, Grandma hated them and decided she would no longer eat anything for the remainder of the trip. She survived out of coffee and bread, because in her opinion, nothing in that land was well cooked, had good seasoning, and, above all, lacked a little green “chilito” for the flavor.

My family adapted to Mexican land through past and local ingredients, never forgetting about the past but also welcoming the future. Likewise, seed varieties adapt to their local environment by weaving information from previous and present lands. They honor culture, identity, and respect for a land. I hope that through our innate love for living beings and their growth, we will be able to care about our environment, recover the lost community knowledge and make better choices about the food we eat. After all, our choices are what ultimately impact the food industry today.

Dear friend, anecdotes about food, spaces, and territories help us find our way back into resilient and collaborative communities. Saving seed varieties is the vehicle to succeed in that path, it is an act of resistance from the current, extremely detrimental, state of food supply chains. This package I am sharing with you contains Jalapeño pepper seeds. I invite you to grow half of them, save the other half and cook them when you harvest. Diversity is what allows us to survive in this more-than-human world.