Liver and onions? Really? A friend told me about this women serving a dinner of liver and onions to a man on their first date. The woman, she said, was from Oklahoma, an Oakie from Muskogee—as if that explained the meal choice. I wondered later if liver and onions was “home” food for Oklahoman’s.
Living with our current viral pandemic, we all feel like eating comfort food. Some of us are “hangry” (hungry and angry both) stuck in our homes the past several weeks.
Others are more hanxious and full of hension. My daughter messaged me a selfie with her head tilted back and a can of Cheez Whiz above her mouth. Her finger was ready to push the can’s nozzle. She wrote under the picture that after weeks of homeschooling her kids, she was now mainlining Cheez Whiz.
Really, it’s unremarkable and so characteristic of humans to turn to food in times of duress. We’re programmed to be emotional eaters. Food, like certain smells or an old song, can take us out of the misery of the here and now and transport us to another time and place entirely. Food is our history, our culture. When my husband takes a bite from a slice of berry pie, he sees his Mennonite mother bent over her berry patch pruning raspberry stalks in early spring.
My father who looked Italian—but wasn’t, made the best spaghetti sauce ever, for a West Virginia hillbilly.
I can see him now, standing at the hot stove, stirring and taste-testing his bubbling sauce. He’d cook shirtless with a tomato-stained tea towel thrown over a bare shoulder. Dad cleaned out the fridge when he made spaghetti sauce, and caused not a few complaints from my brothers when they found bits of canned corn in their spaghetti dinner. Still, I loved dad’s home-made sauce. Just writing about it makes me want to grab my face mask and drive to the store to buy a couple of cans of tomatoes.
I read a poem online this week that had to do with food during a pandemic.
The poem was written by J. P. McEvoy in the fall of 1918 when the Spanish flu was killing thousands of Americans. McEvoy colorfully captured what having the Spanish flu felt like: “When your food taste like a hard-boiled hearse … you’ve got the flu, boy, you’ve got the flu.” I don’t know what a hard-boiled hearse tastes like, but I do understand the connection between food and fear.
While I was going to school to get my doctorate, I lived in a tiny apartment, one of several, in a large old house. I used to lay on my bed and look up at the crumbly ceiling and the spider web hanging down in the corner. One morning I woke up and happen to brush my hand across my chest. I felt a small raised area just under the skin. I sat up, suddenly alert, and performed a more thorough exploration. I definitely had a breast lump. Soon the doctor was called and a diagnostic mammogram scheduled at the hospital. When I found out I didn’t have breast cancer, I was ecstatic. In fact, the doctor told me I didn’t have any breast disease at all, but a reaction to a spider bite. Imagine that.
When I left the hospital, I got into my car and drove to a ritzy restaurant downtown. It was time to celebrate.
Food works in all kinds of situations: sad, bad, or happy.
After I ordered a three-course meal, appetizer and dessert included, I tipped my waitress generously.
Image Credit: My dad, photo by Diana Hooley Image Credit: Spanish flu