Food Consumer & Creator
“It feels damp and smells green and sweet.”
What is the origin of my obsession with food? I don’t know anybody else in my extended family that is interested in healthy food. During my upbringing in rural Ohio, we had a property with fruit trees and we had a big garden. My mom would cook and can, but then she passed away, so I did it. I didn’t really love that aspect, but I loved the fresh food. And so I’ve always pursued eating as healthy as I possibly can. Even in the seventies, eating butter was not very popular, but I somehow knew that it was way better for me than margarine!
I loved fresh fruits. As a little kid, I would forage in the orchard and eat off the ground if I couldn’t reach anything. Fruit was a big part of my upbringing. I think it kept me healthy. I lived in the country and I had no way to get anywhere…to a store or anything. So I started thinking, how far back does this obsession with healthy food go? I think it began with growing up in a sun-drenched outdoor environment, running around barefoot.
“I am running around on the green grass- barefoot. I feel safe and playful.”
This is what drew me to my memory of the carrots. My mom would buy a bunch of them in a cellophane bag with the little tie, like they have today. She would take them home and peel them all and put them back in the bag. Then she explained to me that anytime I wanted, I could just go to the refrigerator and get a carrot. I just thought it was the coolest thing. God knows how many carrots I ate! That is the first time I remember actually helping myself to the food that I wanted and not eating what somebody put on a plate in front of me. I felt like I was empowered in making that decision. That was what I chose.
“My mother used to peel and clean a bag of carrots and put them all back in the bag in the refrigerator. She told me anytime I felt hungry I could help myself to a carrot.”
My mother and I were extremely close. I just adored her. She was very generous and kind to me and always available. Her illness lasted five years, so even though she passed away when I was nine, she first got sick when I was four. It really prevented her from doing a lot of things because she was always in the hospital. She loved the outdoors. She was so much fun. When someone isn’t in your life anymore, you try to remember certain things about them, like their skin or the way they smelled. I tried to remember that for a long time in my teenage years. And then, in my twenties, things just got more distant.
I got the feeling that she wanted to make food fun for me. I don’t really think she tried to do that for herself. She had a little Pyrex pie pan that was about seven inches, so when she made pies, she made me my own. When she made spaghetti sauce, she would make me butter toast and then give me a bowl of sauce and say, “Taste it”. There are a lot of really generous things that she did.
“She was tall…but now I think maybe she wasn’t as tall as I remembered her being. She had thick, dark, wavy hair, completely different from mine. And she had brown eyes.”
I try to be as generous with my children as I felt like she was with me. My dad and I didn’t get along, and I have a longer memory of that than I do of my mother. I had to cook for my dad three squares a day…sometimes he explained it, but he didn’t always. We had like a whole cow in our freezer! I had to put out a pot-roast before I went to school in the morning. It wasn’t a fun childhood. I got in trouble if I didn’t do it, or if I burned it. I was notorious for burning the beef…the water would cook out and I would be doing something else. I also canned, at ten years old I was canning fifty quarts of tomatoes, a hundred quarts of pears…it wasn’t joyful.
I moved out the day I turned eighteen. I already had my own apartment. This guy who owned a lot of real estate rented me a place when I was seventeen years old, just because he felt sorry for my story. I had a job and everything. The day I turned eighteen, I drove to my apartment with a Volkswagen I was hiding in the neighbor’s garage.
When you have the choice and you’re actually in the situation to begin parenting, you have a lot of time to think about it. That was when I realized that I have some really great things to draw on and some not so great things to draw on. I think my sons, Taylor and Levi, would say they had a pretty good childhood and relationship with me. I just love them. I wish they were sitting here.
“I enjoyed playing outdoors, carrot in hand.”
I probably started to find joy in cooking in college. When I started having access to food that I liked. Back here in the Midwest, when I was growing up, the produce was very seasonal. In the winter there would be oranges in the store, but you would never see the berries that we have now. You would get pomegranates in the winter and then peaches in the summer, never plums shipped from Chile.
You want to know something funny? I thought avocado was the color of a refrigerator and stove! I totally didn’t know that that was something you ate. I was never exposed to avocados until I got to California. Now we buy them, no problem. But when I was growing up, avocado was just the color of the refrigerator.
With more access to fresh ingredients, I was more inspired to cook. I also realized at about nineteen or twenty that I was pretty good at it. I had all that experience from my childhood. Not that I loved it, but I knew how to cook and it really made people happy. I couldn’t believe how happy it made people! I wanted to surprise people with how delicious my food was and that became a sort of game for me. I enjoyed that a lot. I have probably been doing that for forty years.
“I taste a sweet, somewhat chalky flavor. I hear only the birds and the occasional car motor.”
[ Carol Henry is photographed on her property in Springfield, Kentucky on 120mm film. ]
Carol Henry is a professional artist, curator and innkeeper, currently based in Springfield, Kentucky.