The Forgotten Joys Of Eating
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The Forgotten Joys Of EatingLessons From Grandma Francesca
As a child, I always delighted in going food shopping with my grandmother. This ritual combined all the elements of a great novel: there was drama, comedy, and a cast of unforgettable characters. And there was no such thing as one-stop shopping, nor did we jump into the car to quickly get it done.
Grandma Francesca and I would walk several blocks to the shops and methodically go in and out of each one, buying ingredients for the next couple of days’ meals. There was the butcher, the cheese shop, the vegetable and fruit market, and my favorite: the stand where you could get Italian ice. I loved the little white cup chock-full of flavored ice that you kept sucking on until it was down to the bottom. We never checked to see how much time our shopping trip was taking because there were important decisions to make. Francesca had to have the freshest arugula and tomatoes for her salad, and grating cheese that had a bite to it. She would have been horrified by the idea of taking home pre-grated cheese in a container. You picked out a good, fragrant solid cheese, took home a piece, and grated it yourself.
As Grandma and I walked the neighborhood, we’d often see a lot of familiar faces in the stores doing similar errands. Unlike these days, our neighbors were folks we usually knew quite well, and we’d stop and chat with them. If we were in the grocery store, someone would give my grandmother a much-loved recipe for a special sauce ragu. If we were at the vegetable stand, it was a recipe for salad dressing. Neighborhood women always shared recipes and cooking tips.
What I remember the most about food shopping was how much fun it was. I’m sure there are still neighborhoods where this goes on, but for the most part, Americans have lost the art of being connected to their food in the same way our grandparents or parents were. Now we usually go to one supermarket and take whatever they have, whether or not it’s up to our standards. It’s just too inconvenient to look elsewhere. We often mindlessly fill up our carts, with the primary goal being to get out of there as soon as possible.
One of the ways we could get in touch with what we eat and become more mindful about food is to try to re-create our grandparents’ customs. We need to pay attention to all the luscious scents, textures, and tastes of what we put in our mouths.
In an era of down-and-dirty dining, many of us have forgotten how food not only fuels us, but also how it feeds our senses. It can conjure up powerful memories, both good and bad, and bring us in touch with our ethnicity. Sharing a meal has the power to help us do business, connect family and friends, and share a romantic evening as a prelude to more. Let’s stop talking about food as if we were emergency-room physicians. Let’s focus on the texture and taste of summer tomatoes, not just on their lycopene levels and antioxidant properties.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be conscious of the nutritional values of what we eat, of course. But we do need to think about food in a less clinical way. Can’t we find a balance?
I recently had the wonderful experience of gong to my local farms’ market in downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts. I was so excited to buy fresh tomatoes and the various other fruits and vegetables available. It reminded me of shopping with my grandma Francesca. Some people get excited by their latest Facebook post, but I find great joy in slicing up a big juicy tomato and eating it with just the right amount of salt.
It’s so easy for us to live unconsciously, simply going from one thing to another, unable to really delight in each moment because our focus is already on whatever we’re supposed to be doing next. We need to lighten up, slow down the pace, and make mealtimes a vital part of our day. Food necessitates that we tap into and honor the wonder of all of our senses. Then and only then can we enjoy the now of chow.