Unsettling the table

As a temporary resident of Sackville, travelling for the holidays complicates my meaning of “home.” In a literal sense, being home means sleeping in the house where I grew up and where my mother still lives. The sight of familiar mountains and the miscellanea of left-behind objects in my childhood bedroom affirm that this house in suburban Vancouver is my home, too.

This home in Vancouver has a sense of place as a neighbourhood, in the relationships I have there with my family, and in the food we eat. There is a sense of safety in the way my dad putters around doing small household repairs and in knowing where to find the spare key. Somehow there is always a pineapple resting on the kitchen countertop, Polish garlic sausage sitting in the fridge, and decaf coffee grounds hiding in the cupboard. These little signs of my parents’ lifestyles are at home in this house, as are the three of us who live among them.

But my home is also here, in Sackville, affirmed by my happiness to be back. In Sackville I live among friends and in an apartment enchanted with little, everyday pleasures. When I am away from this home, I notice certain absences: encounters on the library’s main floor, my well-sized coffee mugs, films at the Vogue, and the eggs from the Portage Pork truck at the farmers’ market.

These senses of home are markers of my identity. I am a child of my parents. I came of age on public transit to and from my suburb, nourished by European cold cuts and peaches from the Okanagan. But I also live in this place—in Sackville, on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. Being able to find home here—in the land and the food it yields, in my relationships with this community and in the objects and relationships I enjoy—has made me realize my own responsibilities to this territory.

While the holidays raise questions about how we students define home, there are more sobering crises that prompt us to rethink our concepts of home. The experiences of displaced Indigenous peoples, refugees of political extremism, and the working class are routinely dismissed or even expected. Toxic apathy is a normal response to these losses of home. In stark contrast to my freedom and choice to move from Vancouver to Sackville, these bodies are routinely denied attachment to place—to the land that nourishes them and comprises their homes.

The connection between who we are and where we live that makes up “home” certainly includes food practices. But what and how we eat with others is only a part of what defines our self-identity. To respect personhood is not merely to ensure, for example, the physical survival of refugees reliant on Red Cross rations. Personhood cannot be respected without making ecological and political commitments to ensure that people may live at home, and are permitted to enjoy the fruits of the land without fear of ecological or political violence—to be among the safety and little pleasures of the everyday.

Alex Lepianka