Pictured above: Allison Goss, with her grandmother, Ouida Merrifield
Food is the foundation of a family. At least that’s my experience. As a child growing up in Oklahoma with divorced, middle-class parents, I ate a lot of casseroles and spaghetti. My mom is a great cook, but with a handful of kids under her feet, she did the best she could do on a budget.
When I was a child, I spent my afternoons in the kitchen at La Cuisine, a restaurant and market in South Tulsa. My mom was the daytime manager, and my grandmother, Ouida Merrifield, was the owner. Being a tiny observer of this busy, heavenly-smelling operation made me want to learn how to cook.
La Cuisine eventually closed. My mom remarried and my sister and I went to live with my father in Oklahoma City. I missed Tulsa, but I understood that things were changing. At Dad’s house, an important factor appeared in my food equation: a backyard garden. My dad is a practical but well-rounded cook, the sort of man that buys chuck roast as opposed to tenderloin. As a working-man, his menus were of the “meat and potatoes” variety. We ate a lot of steak and roasts, which were usually accompanied by a seasonal vegetable grown in the garden. A steak dinner still seems naked without carrots, sweet potatoes, or turnips.
During my adolescence, my grandmother owned another Tulsa restaurant, The Polo Grill. When I was fourteen, I began working there as a back-waiter during holidays and I have found myself employed by food ever since. I’ve worked in kitchens, bars, and bistros and have done everything from tending bar to expediting. I even met my husband at a bar; he was working as a chef at a McGill’s and I was waiting tables at a new restaurant on Brookside, Table Ten. We started a family shortly after we met and I took a break from the food scene to figure out how to be a wife and mother.
I became a localvore the moment our son was born. The nurse handed him to me; I cuddled him and smiled, and then immediately put my breast in his mouth. The moment he latched on, it was clear that food was no longer just a requirement; it was an act of love and nourishment. My milk was exactly what he needed; food doesn’t get any more local than that.
When my son was old enough for solids, I became pregnant again, and knew that with two children I would be a stay-at-home mom for more years than I had anticipated, so I went into full-on Alice Waters mode. I started growing herbs and vegetables and began reading about the importance of community-supported agriculture. I began frequenting farmer’s markets, meeting local growers, and becoming more aware of what we were eating. I often found myself in the kitchen, barefoot with an apron on, refining my skills as a cook. The food kept getting better, as did the ingredients.
Eating locally means knowing the source of your food; it’s about having a relationship with the grower, farmer, or chef. My son needed my breast milk to grow and develop; in a similar sense, I now rely on local businesses to feed my family in the most responsible, healthy way. For me and my family, eating locally is more than just a social responsibility. It’s about interdependence. I guess you could say it’s a family thing.