Columns 2009

We’re Italian… we eat for comfort

A friend of mine recently came back from a funeral. She commented on the different customs that were so apparent at the home visitation before the funeral and how comforting they seemed to the bereaved. Then she asked me what my family did at times like that. As an Italian, there was one simple answer… we ate.

Whether it was a funeral, a hospital visit, the death of a pet or a “sorry your son decided to go into philosophy as a career” occasion, what we did for comfort was eat. Whether the occasion was happy, sad or we weren’t sure, there was food to feed the body and comfort the soul. 

Is Aunt Ida crying over losing Uncle Paul? Give her a cookie and a cup of coffee.  Is Grandmom Terese worried that Uncle Charley’s radiation treatment isn’t working? Make some lentil soup with crusty bread for her. Is cousin Joe worried that his son Joe III will never find gainful employment because of his career choice? Some pasta and a nice glass of wine, please. By the time we’re done cooking and eating, we’ve worked through the issue at hand.

There are probably cultures in this world where food is not used as comfort. I wouldn’t want to be a member of that group.  And I’d still bet that most people have a certain food that means home, hearth and safety to them.  For me, it’s mom’s pasta e ceci – a simple dish of beans and pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, a little garlic and a sprinkle of fresh ground Parmesan cheese.

Make you hungry reading about food?  I’m not surprised. Writing about it makes me want to get up even before this column is finished to ascertain I have all the ingredients needed to make some pasta e ceci for dinner tonight. I’ll bet you’re now thinking of some favorite food and wondering if you have the ingredients in your pantry to cook it up. If not, no problem. You’ll just head to the store and get what you need, right?

This makes us the lucky ones, the ones who can just drive to the store and pick up the food we want when we want it. Even if we’re on a budget, we almost always have enough…enough to stave off starvation, enough to feed our children so they don’t go to bed crying from hunger pangs, enough to make our comfort food at least once in a while and be able to wrap ourselves in its aroma and memories.

There are a lot of people in this state who aren’t so lucky. They don’t know for sure where their next meal will come from and what it will be. They can’t guarantee that their children won’t be hungry when they go to bed and hungrier still when they go to school.  As the economy tanked over the past year, more and more people who once thought they’d made it to the safety of a permanent job and income found themselves adrift, living from day to day, meal to meal, not enough income for both rent and groceries, facing the horrible choice of whether its better for their kids to be hungry or homeless.

Our food banks and social service agencies are stretched to their limits trying to provide for the newly poor, hard workers who were always one paycheck away from economic disaster. Their poverty is the result of an economy that for too long rewarded the rich beyond imagination, as the poor got poorer. While the titans of Wall Street took home millions of dollars in bonuses, people barely clinging to the bottom rung of the middle class ladder got shoved off.

This Saturday, May 9, is the Letter Carriers Food Drive. Just leave a bag of non-perishable food next to your mailbox early on that day and the letter carriers will do the rest.

I know we are all feeling strapped this year. But I’m betting you can find some extra cans of food or boxes of rice if you look hard enough.  No matter how little or how much you give, the important thing is to give. Because there but for the grace of God….