Recipes in Real Life, by Jenna Pekofsky
Jenna Pekofsky is a graduate and former elected youth leader of the CSL Teen Program. She has been a member of Oneness since those early years and was awarded the CSL “Youth Champion Award” in 2015. She is a Foodie, a Hospitality Professional, and a Burgeoning Food Blogger.
Full disclosure before I start: This post is only kind of about food. (And it may be the longest one I have ever written.)
There is a lot going on in the world right now, and I think all along I feltI needed a specific “topic” that would make people listen to what I have to say, when really, I want to write about being real in real life. Don’t fret if you’re one of the 10-15 people who loved learning abut how I cook and new recipes… I am sure I will share more in the future. This post, however, is more of a reflection on who I am, my journey as an advocate for racial and social justice, what kind of human I want to be in the world, and all of the mistakes I have made in the process, so you know who you’re dealing with. I hope that this will inspire people with similar backgrounds to mine, and will not trigger anyone’s frustration. I only mean to be as authentic as I can be, so if you’re feeling like maybe this young white woman from a privileged background’s trips and falls are not what you’re craving, I honor you and appreciate your decision to stop reading now. If you’re into learning about my perspective and maybe also want to undertake your own journey of self reflection, thanks for saying yes.
I love people, like I love food and the way it brings people together and nourishes our physical bodies and our souls. Food is such an important part of identity, as are many things, and through sharing foods and recipes that are important to us, we can learn so much about other cultures and perspectives, while still never being able to understand all that another person lives and experiences. While I enjoy so many flavors from many types of cuisine, and am so fascinated by the traditions of cooking that shape and define other people and places, it feels very clear to me that I could never claim to truly be a cook of any particular type of cuisine. I love to learn, but my identity is still very much white American. I don’t love this about myself all the time, but it is the truth regardless of how I feel about it. I could claim Jewish-American, and some of those foods are very close to my heart, but even still, I am still white. I feel like I have so much more to learn about Jewish culture, too. I think something that might mark people who really love food (or perhaps cooking specifically… or really a lot of other things) is that there is always more to learn and share. I like to hope that informs me when I’m learning about systemic racism and oppression as well, since I similarly feel like the learning is lifelong.
When I was in middle school, I got my first real cookbook and wanted to start creating things on my own. I found a recipe for spinach and artichoke dip- something that I still love to this day as comfort-food (lame, perhaps, but true.) I was so excited to put ingredients together all on my own and get to eat my delicious success. I sat down at the table, put a chip into my dip, chewed, smiled, and then rushed to the kitchen to get water! My mouth was on FIRE. I was devastated. I went to look back at the recipe, and realized I had misread it and put 3 times the amount of cayenne pepper in it. To be fair, the recipe was a little unclear, but there was no mistaking that I messed up. I probably cried as I threw the entire batch away… I’m a crier.
But I didn’t keep crying, and I didn’t vow never to cook again. I pushed through and realized if I wanted to share my cooking with other people, I would have to do better and keep learning first. This story is feeling particularly poignant because it feels so metaphorical for learning about privilege, implicit bias, racism, and moving into anti-racism. When we decide to try something we feel is worthwhile, like being a human dedicated to knowing ourselves and important information so that we can better serve those who need support to change the systems that oppress them, we cannot give up after something seems too hard or goes wrong. There is too much at stake. Kind of like if we just stop cooking, many of us who cannot afford carryout all the time will likely not be able to eat. (Kind of.)
When I was in college, there were a lot of protests going on like they are now. For the same things. Police (and other white people) have been killing unarmed and nonviolent black people for a long time. (Along with many other atrocities which are relevant, but for a later blog post.) Obviously it’s been much longer than that 6 -7 years, but as a young adult with a big heart and a desire to see a world that honors all people for who they are, regardless of skin color, it felt like the biggest thing to do to stand up against it. I like to think that I would have done it even if my boyfriend at the time was not black, but I honestly can’t say for sure, and wouldn’t count it out- I know a lot more now that I did then, and I am not a perfect person. We marched and chanted and it felt so amazing to stand in solidarity with so many amazing people, who were understandably angry and scared and moved to action. I made a poster and everything… and that was the problem. You see, my well intentioned, but ignorant-at-the-time self had written words I felt were powerful and true, “ALL Lives Matter!” Because I believed that, and that’s why it was so heartbreaking that anyone, especially police, would kill another person! But the point was that is was black people who were being told they didn’t matter. And because of the grace and generosity of energy of the black people in my life at the time, I learned why those words were so problematic and took away from the point. I truly get it now, but man, I had to learn it by seriously messing up.
I know I cried then, because I felt SO terrible that my intention did not match my impact. The people in my life who taught me that concept have truly transformed the way I look at all personal growth. I also want to extend my apologies from taking more of your energy to teach me, when just going on to campus took all of your strength and courage. I can never fully express my gratitude for those who have, and continue to, hold me accountable with love. So, I will just keep pushing myself to do better and try to use my privilege make the world better for you. You see, even with the best intentions, impact is most important, and it is up to us to make the changes inside so that the impact of our actions and words match our true intentions.
And then I stopped crying, because the tears didn’t help anyone. I had learned such a valuable lesson and I felt determined to change so that I could really be who I want to be. What I have since learned, is that the feeling of guilt, of agonizing over harming rather than helping, even if completely by accident (we can only work with what we know at the time), is the greatest indicator of internal work that needs doing. It has resurfaced over the past few weeks quite a few times, as I have truly come to realize the ways that I hide from confrontation in my privilege and my conditioning to be quiet and small. But now, I see it as a motivating, rather than crippling, feeling.
My focus and intention for the past several weeks, is to use my voice with confidence and compassion. It is easy sometimes for us to get too bogged down by emotion to feel like we have the energy to make calls, sign petitions, research laws and regulations that need to be changed, and do our part to know who and what we are really voting for in every election. I am not making any excuses for the times I have not taken these steps, or for how long or little time it has taken me to decide to push through my discomfort and do the not-so-fun things that help inform me as a citizen with power to make changes. At the end of the day, all we can do is decide to do the things now, to keep doing them, and to hold each other accountable going forward.
Last month I made a chocolate cake from scratch. I have always felt like I am a bad baker, but I wanted cake and I wanted to push myself, so I tried. Truly, making a cake isn’t hard. That doesn’t change the fact that I over-filled the pans and had to turn off the oven quickly before all of the batter on the bottom of my oven set my smoke alarm off. Somehow, I managed to get the cakes baked without further damage by leaving them in the cooling oven. This is not a technique I recommend, but I had come this far and damnit, I wanted cake! If you look at the picture of the cake, you would never know that’s what happened. The truth is, I still had to spend a long time scraping burned bits of chocolate batter out of my oven the next morning. We don’t always get to see the details of anyone’s lives and yet we still tend to judge that final picture of them.
You’d think that I would never bake again after that, but you are sorely mistaken. There was something that happened, as I addressed my mistakes, forgave myself, and got back up, that felt really real. I also now know what not to do if I don’t want that to happen again! We have to be graceful with ourselves in the work of addressing our own racism and white supremacy too, but not ignore the clear lessons and changes that need to be made after making mistakes.
I guess my point is that we are all human beings, messy or not, and when we take the time to truly listen to other people whose experiences can inform us greater than our own experiences, we learn and grow stronger together. If we have decided to “do the work” it means being authentic with what we do and don’t understand. It means gracefully accepting criticism when those people in our lives who know more things and different things than us take the time and energy to offer it. It means, as my High School choir teacher always told us, “listen louder than you sing.” We all still have to sing, if we want to make music together, but if we aren’t listening even louder, we aren’t taking into account the whole picture, and the “sopranos” are just blowing the whole thing out of balance!
What I keep hearing from black leadership is that while the protests and uprising are important too, it will be even more vitally important to keep the momentum going, and have stamina to support follow up efforts to dismantle white supremacy in our government and change the laws and regulations that normalize oppression. To me, that means learning about the laws in the first place. I have been shifting my reading from just the echo chamber of my circle’s Facebook post-sharing to articles and resources from organizations who are professionally drafting policy and seeking support of voters and writers. It also means continuing to read about history and law and the ways that it still affects people. It means reading and discussing further what being “non-racist” or “anti-racist” actually means (and also getting my words right), and continually dismantling and re-structuring what I have been taught is true. Engaging with topics that feel “uncomfortable” because they are important. Ultimately, it means never feeling like I’ve “got it” because there is always more to learn. While there is a level of knowledge, compassion, and understanding we all need to have to even begin, we ARE qualified to be involved, we must not grow complacent… for that is what has allowed so much of our society to continue to operate in its harmful ways.
If I want to learn more about making Japanese food, I would seek guidance from someone who is Japanese. If I want to learn more about Mexican food, it makes sense to learn the techniques from Mexican people who have been doing it for years. If I want to learn about what is really happening to Black people in our country and how I can help, I have to listen to those people, and so many are bravely and generously sharing their perspectives and knowledge with us. We must not demand emotional labor by asking them to teach us, but rather truly listen to that which already exists all around us. The internet can be a scary place, but not when we are using it to share true knowledge as power. A humbleness is involved in spiritual and emotional growth… and while I know the divinity of every human at the core, including myself, being honest about where we fall short and what we still need to work on is important.
Everybody is different and responds to information, tone, and urgency in different ways. For me lately, I have been trying to balance my intensely emotional nature with power, directness, and deliberate communication. I was feeling that I am too weak and emotional and empathetic to do certain things in the world, but now I know I am strong and able, and so privileged that I have no excuse not to do better. My ability to see the emotional depth of others allows me to do this work from a sense of compassion, and while anger is an emotion that comes up for me often, I let it move me to stretch beyond my comfort zone, rather than become my comfort zone. But there are other people in my life that can truly say it like it is, their language is strong and purposeful and true in such a way that it rocks people where they stand. I admire the shit out of that, and I am learning more and more that having a lot of different styles and approaches, founded in love, and backed up by real knowledge is way better than only communicating in one way. Thank you for inspiring me with your strong voices too.
So with that, I invite you to develop your own voice and your own style. This doesn’t mean some of the things that feel authentic to you at a given time will not be inherently problematic… they likely will be. But if you are willing to accept that, change as necessary, and continue to push out of your comfort zone to align more with the leaders who inspire you, then you are on the right track. A dear friend of mine said to me, “As long as you know in your heart that you’re doing your part, then you are here for us and we appreciate you.” When I have taken the time to go within and really sit with the response to “am I doing my part?” it has become abundantly clear to me when I feel empowered and when I feel dissatisfied. Both move me forward. There will always be more to do, and the amazing news is that there are a LOT of people who want to do more. As we take care of ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally, and tend to our deeper intuition, I know we will feel a calling to do more things and different things than we have been doing. I have faith that we can find balance so that we do not lose stamina.
I really believe in the goodness of humanity. As beautifully delicious and nourishing things grow from the Earth, we are made of that same stuff and are meant to grow even more intellectually nourishing to each other. Keep shining your light in the world, and if you are feeling like you’re just existing rather than shining, you still matter. Take some time, take a breath, and then seek what you need to shine. If you feel like you’re just throwing words into the void, or just echoing what other people are saying, ask yourself where you can go deeper. Are the words in alignment with that inner self or coming from somewhere else? Recalibrate, and keep going.
Keep rewriting your recipes in real life, and share what you make with others so that we can all be better taken care of.
April 07, 2021