It goes without saying that a dish of food may smell good but if it doesn’t look good, you don’t really want to eat it. Decadent, delicious photos of food have captured the public’s attention to the point that this kind visual stimulation has spawned two 24-hour food networks, more than 11,000 food blogs (ahem), and countless cookbooks. It’s kind of crazy if you stop and think about it.
But what if you couldn’t see? Would you care that much about food? Would you still want to eat it?
It’s something I think about almost every day because my nephew, Sawyer, doesn’t see. He is 6 years old and teaching him about the world even as he tries to figure out where he is in space takes patience, great skill, and enormous amounts of love. It’s kind of like hanging out without someone who doesn’t speak the same language. We are all trying to crack Sawyer’s special code. I am in awe of my sister-in-law and my brother who are his parents, and even his younger sister. He is really lucky to have them as his family. And they – we – are really lucky to have him because he teaches us things.
For example, it wasn’t until I met Sawyer that I learned that smiles really do bloom from within. Sawyer has never “seen” a smile, but he knows what one sounds like, and what it feels like with his fingertips – and he radiates his own beautiful beaminess all the time. Sawyer is a kind of light. You can’t have a conversation with him just yet, but the boy can sing. Hanging out with Sawyer is like listening to the radio on scan. Top 40 music is all jumbled together with nursery songs and even his own kind of scat. Sawyer has jazz.
And right now, all he likes to eat is pancakes and yogurt. It took years of patience to get him this far. He goes to Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. This week Perkins had its annual fundraiser, Taste of Perkins. The main event involved being led blindfolded to a table where someone hands you little spoonfuls of food, and you have to guess what it is you are eating.
Leslie, my sister-in-law did not enjoy this. Mostly because she had a strong dislike for the food they were handing her (Asian chicken salad in radish cups, beet pastry with goat cheese, tapiocca pudding with passion fruit). But I loved it. I was getting high marks for guessing the correct ingredients.
I did not like being blindfolded so much. I got dizzy almost immediately and the room seemed much, much louder. And you have to trust everyone around you. Exhausting. Leslie once ran the entire Boston Marathon blindfolded.Triple exhausting.
My evening at Perkins was just a small taste of what Sawyer has to navigate each day.
I have this fantasy that one day Sawyer and I will have conversations about delicious food, about whipped, buttery mashed potatoes, or maybe both say “mmmmmm” over some cheesy risotto. It could happen yet. But we may never speak the language of food. If not, no worries. Because there is a language that we’ve shared from the beginning.
And that, of course, is the language of love.