Aging food, aging humans (it's my birthday!)
Age 3 to 33!

Aging food, aging humans (it's my birthday!)

Shikha Kaiwar

I’m thirty-three today!

And I feel….exactly the same.

Thirty-three isn’t a momentous age. There are no milestones to hit, no boxes to check. At thirty-three, I am deep into adulthood but still trying to figure adulthood out. I am doing double the taxes (perks of moving abroad, the US mandates that you file taxes unless you renounce your citizenship!) for far less pay. I am gawking at how expensive weddings are and how we’re going to pay for ours. I never have enough hours in the day. I am doing too much and nothing at all.

They say that things get better with age, and no other place is this more discussed than in the world of food. Young wine is inexperienced and stupid; old wine is wise and mature. Fresh meat is earnest, but aged meat is vehement; I mean, have you ever even eaten 60-day aged beef or a slab of ibérico ham?

The reverence of age in food spans cultures and it fascinates me. In Japan, umeboshi plums take weeks to make. In India, mango achar, or mango pickle, takes just as long, at least if you want a good pickle. In France, cheese ages for months, even developing full on mold which we say gives it “character.” And then of course, there’s the funky universe of fermentation—beer, whiskey, kimchi, sourdough starter, and countless others.

You can even pickle chickpeas!

While aging food is trendy, it derives from survival. Historically, to age something meant to preserve it so it could last without refrigeration and be eaten in times of need like during war, famine, or harsh seasonal conditions. To preserve something meant to capture the essence of what it was at its best while protecting it from the harsh elements of reality—from sadness, anger, and death. The goal was never to change the food entirely, but rather, to give it the tools it needs to manage on its own. Preservation is basically therapy for food.

As I get older, I reflect on what tools I’ve been given to survive. When I was little, I equipped myself with tools that many children have—imagination and the outdoors. I read books and dug holes in the backyard. One time I was convinced that I could dig a hole to India if I went deep enough. I obviously didn’t succeed but success didn’t matter. What mattered is that I tried, enjoyed it, and stayed present. When my parents argued inside, I dug outside. When they argued again, I dug even harder, covering myself with dirt and reveries about how this hole will get us to India faster than a plane.

I never finished that hole, but one time an uncle fell into it and that was hilarious.

Today, my tools are different. I’m not digging holes into the ground but I am digging them into my mind, always trying to understand and find meaning. There’s been over a decade of therapy and ironclad friendships spread across the world. But how am I preserving myself? As we age, how do we remember the essence of who we were so that we can create a stronger mental, spiritual, and physiological version of who we are now?

In your thirties, aging feels like nothing. There are days, weeks, months, and even years where it feels like there is nothing to say or do. I felt that way about this past year and that’s okay. Because in this mediocre year, I’m still surviving. I mourned the deaths of friends, an old life, and a country I no longer recognise, but I’m still here. I'm fermenting and percolating in ways I don’t understand fully but that I know will pave the way for something else. And I am excited for that. So right now, all I can do is remember the child in me and preserve her as I continue to grow up.
Remember the girl who digs into the earth without a clue whether she'll make it to the other side. Remember the girl who sang Bollywood songs in her bedroom, memorized shark facts (#SharkWeek is coming soon), and baked snickerdoodles at 1am for fun. Keep her close. You may get older, but you can still stay true to who you are.