Food As An Abstract Concept


By Julia Vogl


On Passover we ask those gathered around a table to think of their food as ritualistic symbols of abstract concepts. An egg becomes a symbol of renewal and life, parsley dipped in salt water becomes the tears we shed to reflect the difficulty of being a slave. Not small ideas and yet bite size.

So it seems that as I build a project to ask about the meaning of freedom I would be remiss not to consider what food might be represented as a symbol.

In this investigation I undertook many conversations and discussions. Initially, I thought about the various meanings of freedom and what foods might pair well with those ideas. Freedom is many things but, in my mind, these became critical ideas:

  • Guaranteed safety – something you can rely on
  • Comforting and a national tradition
  • Nourishing the body and soul
  • Allowing choice and diverse opportunities
  • Sweet but tricky to hold onto, something to be tended too
  • Seemingly simple, but actually very complex

I am sure you have your own ideas, and I welcome thoughts. Although some of these may conflict, I think they address the complexity of the concept. So how to see these ideas as edible?

I thought about what foods relate to all cultures, not just white America. In speaking to a friend who has a penchant for ethnic supermarkets she told me that many immigrants come to the USA wanting to cook their family recipes but can’t find the right ingredients. When her grandparents moved from Germany and Hungary in the 1930s, they were desperate for good quality bread, something she still looks for with difficulty in LA. I found this somewhat ironic considering we left Egypt with no time for our bread to rise and thousands of years later we are still looking for the ideal loaf….

I won’t tell you what I ended up with just yet, but something worth thinking about, and considering—what holds meaning in your family story as symbolic food for freedom?

This blog post is part of a series documenting the creation of “Pathways to Freedom: A Passover Public Art Project”.