I recently read Julie and Julia, Top Chef and all things Cheese Straws by fellow blogger The Preppy Islander and aside from enjoying her narrative, it got me thinking about food and its role in different cultures.
You see, being a Greek, I have no frame of reference for cultures/families/lifestyles that are not centered around food. Cause Greeks in the U.S., Greece, Australia—anywhere—they. LOVE. Their. Food. So much that sometimes at breakfast, they are thinking about what to make for dinner. And not in a fast-forward, not-in-the-present kind of way. It’s just because everything revolves around the procurement of delicious eats, and eating, especially with loved ones, is the highlight of the day.
I never really thought much about the Greek/food relationship until I moved to Australia. I grew up with two fabulous, old-school cooks, spent all my childhood and young adult years in my uncle’s divine restaurant, where another uncle was the head chef. Even from childhood, I had a very diverse palate. Another uncle (you know Greeks have huge families) in the fast food business in Coney Island served me oysters and clams on the half-shell at age two and was astounded when I not only ate them, but professed my love for them. So you see, good food and home cooking have been a fixture in my life from birth.
Then I arrive in Australia. Alone. I am suddenly exposed to a different dynamic in the food/family relationship than I’ve ever encountered: Australian fare. Now realize I’m not slamming the Aussies, who descend from the Brits; they just approach food differently—this culture doesn’t “feed” like the Greeks. The British stiff-upper-lip, every man for himself perspective extends even into food prep and consumption. I am gobsmacked, as they say. You are expected to eat your meal in appropriate portions, not so much according to your level of hunger or even zeal. I am in unchartered territory.
My point in all this, and it’s taken me a good 35 years to realize it, is that Greeks—who are notorious “feeders”—don’t just eat for sustenance. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that my parents’ generation came mostly from extreme poverty in Greece, or it’s just in the genes, but for them, food equals love. Preparing meals is an absolute labor of love, because there are no shortcuts. Roasts, meats, pitas, veggies, whatever…they are all from fresh ingredients that are cooked into delectable, proper meals. And aside from the joy I think many Greek cooks take in preparing meals for their children/parents/friends, there is the joy they take in feeding you. Seeing you truly enjoy your meal makes them truly happy. They need to take care of you, cause that makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something.
For Greeks, especially those who were witness to the end of World War II in Greece, food is an essential component of love and health. That’s why even if you’re 45 and your parents are 75, they will happily feed you morning, noon, and night if you are looking for a meal. They will never turn you away. They will never complain about how much you’re eating, unless you’re not eating enough. They would rather push away from their own plates to ensure that you, a bonafide adult, have more to enjoy.
I so wish that more families came together around the dinner table to partake of a meal with their loved ones. It pains me to see kids out with their parents for dinner with a portable DVD player or game sitting in front of them on the table. What kind of example are you setting when you let your kids do that? To be present but not? Your disinterest in engaging them, in taking the time to talk and manage them will become apparent later. YES, it is hard work, parenting. YES, the digital sitter keeps them quiet. But so do lessons. So does teaching children that meals together are sacred and not to be taken for granted. My parents regularly took us out as toddlers and children for real meals in real restaurants. And we were well-behaved because we respected the fact that we’d get spanked if we were rude or misbehaved. We didn’t have DVD players and games. We had real parents who…parented. Imagine that.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent here. At the end of the day, instead of plopping in front of the TV or getting takeout, why not cook? Cook together with your spouse and/or children. There are plenty of meals that can be made in 20 to 30 minutes. Revel in your time together. Eat heartily, laugh heartily, and live heartily, for you never know what tomorrow will bring.