My Mom's Pancake Griddle Keeps Me Grounded in Troubled Times
Revolution starts in the kitchen
There’s nothing like the little things to remind you that you’re coming home. I started living on my own in college, when I was eighteen years old. The sense of freedom that came with inhabiting my own space (along with knowing that I could eat ice cream at 3 a.m. without a parent’s judgmental glare) is something that I’ve grown to cherish immensely and understand more as I’ve gone into adulthood. But even now, still living independently, there’s nothing quite like coming back home, hearing familiar sounds from the kitchen upon waking, and realizing all the ways that simple meal has grounded me.
I moved around a lot when I was a child, to the point that there isn’t a traditional “home” for me to go back to. My childhood was spent in a series of apartments in various towns across New Jersey, split between living with my mother and younger brother, to my father, stepmother, and two sisters. Because of the moves and other significant events, I learned to let go of things early on. The journals that I usually had stacked up next to my bedroom nightstand have long since been disposed of, to make space for new beginnings and easing these transitions.
But no matter where we lived, I have vivid memories of my mother cooking breakfast. I would hear the weight of the cast iron as it clanked onto the stovetop. As soon as the pancake batter met the top of the massive griddle, the sizzle was unlike anything else that I had heard. It was the promise of comfort and deliciousness, the history of this heavy griddle that had been carried by my family throughout the years. I found such comfort in this simple act of my mother cooking breakfast for my brother and me.
Watching and helping my mother prepare these special breakfasts helped me to understand what it means to feel completely safe. In this moment of sharing a meal with my family, there’s no question that I’m a person who is worthy of love and respect. The challenges that await all of us outside of the walls of our home still remain of course. For me, it’s the weight of being Black and a woman and queer, and it still lingers whenever I venture outside. But sitting at the kitchen table, where music flows from a nearby radio, my family’s laughter mingles with the sizzle of the cooking batter. These moments blur between nostalgia and creation of new memories, and they seep into the cast iron itself. This simple ritual helps me find that inner strength and peace that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
Food has always brought people tighter. It’s been a quiet staple within major activist movements and spaces. One of the Civil Rights Movement’s fundamental actions took place at the lunch counter sit-ins, where Black activists (usually college students) would peacefully sit at all-white lunch counters to demand service and bring awareness about the harmful effects of Jim Crow and segregation laws. The women of these movements fueled change in their own ways, often by feeding both their more visible male counterparts (such as with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders), and children (as with the Black Panthers’ legacy of the free breakfast program in public schools). Quietly, major activist movements have been supported by wives, mothers, and daughters whose power lies in bringing a sense of normalcy and calm after a tumultuous journey forward.
Food is important in these turbulent times, because it creates a community that lasts after that satisfying meal has been cleared away. Now more than ever, we need to be reminded that we are worthy of respect, love, and basic human rights.
I’m grateful for that pancake griddle, for helping my mother show me the strength that comes with cooking breakfast. This humble, hearty meal creates the feeling of safety and security that many of us don’t get the luxury of outside of our homes. It’s preparation for what lies ahead. Revolution doesn’t always take the form of a fight or a movement, it could be something as simple as a cast-iron griddle from which you can feed yourself, and feed the people who matter.