I eat with gusto.
Growing up with Dad’s modeling and six pace-setting siblings, I was neither fussy about taste nor shy about consumption.
Mom once laughed that watching her hungry horde assemble at the table reminded her of piglets at a trough: squeals of excitement, jostling for position, and dedication to the task.
My early love of food has remained steadfast. Those who don’t share my passion confuse me: An acquaintance once stopped the happy buzz of party guests around the appetizer table by announcing she didn’t live to eat. She ate to live. Overwhelmed by pity, I choked on a chocolate-covered strawberry.
I remember restaurants where I ate outstanding food like others remember the names of their children. Though I’m a bit more refined than a brother who claims he’s never eaten in a bad restaurant, I find something I can enjoy on any menu.
When traveling, I order the most unusual item offered: sautéed squid, braised armadillo, chitlins, a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich at Graceland.
I never find a dessert too sweet or gooey. When others complain, “My, I can’t eat all this, it’s too rich,” I picture the look on their undeserving faces and wonder if I should snatch the offending items from their plates.
I have refused three foods in my lifetime: beef liver that dripped, canned okra that slimed, and pickled pigs feet that were poorly named.
I have no patience with fussy eaters who spend more time picking their food apart than eating it. A relative fastidiously removed the raisins from Mom’s raisin cake. Her behavior struck me as peculiar.
I keep my opinions to myself, though, after an experience I had as a rookie teacher: Female staff members went to dinner once a month to celebrate birthdays.
The first time I attended, I sat next to Ruby, a stern-looking lady rumored to be snobbish. When I ordered peanut-butter pie for desert, she sniffed, “Evidently, Janet has yet to outgrow her juvenile taste in food.”
I stopped myself from responding that evidently her nose had outgrown her face; we should hang Christmas decorations from it and stand her in the school’s lobby.
But I began calling her Snooty Ruby.
So when a friend picks the tomatoes out of her salad and another the pepperoni from a pizza, I don’t comment. When a young nephew took his plate of chicken and dumplings—carefully tended in a Dutch oven all day by the best cook in the family—and poured water on it to “make it juicier,” I didn’t flinch. And when Joel throws chopped habanera peppers in his scrambled eggs, then flushes red, weeps, and uses 20 tissues as he eats them, I turn a blind eye.
I love the phrase, comfort food. Whenever tragedy befell a family member—not making the basketball team, the baby-sitting job from hell, acne—Mom assured us we’d feel better after we ate.
And she was right.
Funeral food is comfort food at its best. After my paternal grandmother’s services, I sat with Dad on the steps to the upstairs bedroom in her pioneer-era home. We juggled plates of food and observed the crowd in silence.
I didn’t know how to console my Dad: I wasn’t sure how he felt about his mother, who left the raising of him to his grandmother and didn’t seem interested in him or his life when we visited. But he seemed melancholy and withdrawn. Not knowing what to say, I kept quiet, but slid close.
As we ate potato-and-cheese casserole, pot roast, Jell-O salad, green beans with bits of bacon, homemade rolls, and apple pie, we began to talk.
Dad told me he’d never met a piece of pie he didn’t like, and I made him laugh at a story about my college roommate who wouldn’t go to bed without first eating a bowl of Raisin Bran and five jelly beans.
We felt better after we ate.
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