The cornerstone of culture

February 17, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

I’ve written this book, see, about a long journey that my husband and I once made through a bunch of countries and it came up kind of long and here’s partly why: because I kept writing about food, specifically about meals. Meals we two shared and meals we had in interesting restaurants or with people that we met.

I couldn’t help writing about them – everywhere a meal comes up in the moment, it insisted on its right to be included.

Well, I have cooked, one might say been a chef for a living and I flatter myself that I am a “foodie” with a reasonable range of tastes and an eclectic kitchen. To be honest, Patricia and I tend toward an Italian menu for the most part, for a couple reasons: that the Italians have the most healthy menu and that we have loved being in Italy and never miss a day longing on some level to return.

The frequent meal incidents in my storytelling are not really about my need for sustenance but because wherever one travels, one eats and what one eats defines the culture of the place.

To share a meal whether just the couple of people having the adventure or with others is, in itself – about the people for sure but also about their home culture, the culture of the country. Where else do we learn so much about the substance of a place than by what is served at the table?

Everyone – rich or ruined – eats. Even the scrapped together meals of a ruined situation would tell an onlooker all there is to tell about the needs of the tragedy currently holding that place and those people in its grip. In a prisoner of war camp – where parents are warned not to give all the poor food to their children but to eat enough to survive so they can continue caring for those children are tales that war histories tell.

The saga of poverty, a person begging on the street, a thief that has grabbed an apple from a stall in the market place all weave together to paint a portion of the portrait of the society in which they live.

How much more, then, do the meals of common people, of the rich lay out the lives and legends of the diners?

We love our theatres – fine parades of brave souls on stage doing all that they do: they sing and perform every sort of music; they act out the plays that reflect life somewhere in drama and comedy but imagined geography to one side they are written in our own language penned with skill to teach, amuse or even torture us. We love concerts – crazy wild men with instruments that howl; fabulous music of history; ballades – spiritual – we go; we applaud; we stand to show our approbation.

What joy we have in the visual arts – Orangeville is an outdoor gallery of sculptures and murals. Visitors barely need to go indoors but when they do, they are gratified by the prodigious achievements of the artists in this art-based region.

Our libraries are filled with gems of literature and instruction all of which tell us about us and about others in far-off or near-by lands. We love to hold a book in our hands, listen to it on a “tape;” read it electronically …

Yet and yet, we love to eat. Indeed, we must eat. Food is the cornerstone of culture.

In Italy, a bowl of savoury spaghetti is not a meal; it is an appetizer, the first plate of a meal and a second dish of meat or fish is served sometimes with vegetables and sometimes vegetables are another course. Then there is salad and the wonderful time for conversation around the cheese and fruit. A tender “dolce” – a sweet comes last. Could be a pie that is concentrated, not fat with fruit or bulky of pastry.

Finally, the bitter pleasures of espresso with maybe an amaro – that bitter Italian herbal liqueur to assist digestion.

Such a repast is the daily norm in every Italian household, enjoyed together as a family, all hurrying to be on time to the table. Lunch takes up to two hours, with a glass or two of wine to complete the flavours of the food and aid digestion. All this is followed by an hour’s siesta: the shops in town actually close in the midday to accommodate this ritual. It bespeaks a culture that fundamentally appreciates life, not rushed and unreasonable but measured, with a respect for the essentials of eating and of eating together. 

A recipe for longevity.

All around this interesting and beleaguered world, the meals that are served and the way they are consumed are the definition of what is the culture in any given place. Before everything, we eat and how we do that is the cornerstone of who we are.

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