F-O-O-D That's How We Spell Love

To non-Italians, food serves as a means to nourish the body. It is enjoyed, in all its forms and cuisines. Food serves as a comfort; a loyal friend.


It has even become trendy, thanks to a host of food TV personalities. And while Italians subscribe to many of those notions, food’s purpose has a different slant.

To an Italian, particularly to the Italian Mama, food means love.

Take my own Italian Mama, for example. Some of her most quotable lines are: “What are you going to eat?”

“What do you feel like having for breakfast/ lunch/dinner/snack/Easter/Christmas/ New Year’s/July 4th/Groundhog Day/Take Your Daughter to Work Day/ Hug a Tree Day?/ Double Coupon Day,”

“What are you making for dinner?” 

“Are you hungry?”

and “You’re too skinny, you need to eat!”

To Mom, planning and preparing meals, however large or small, is a direct reflection of her love and concern. It’s also an expression of her worry, gratitude, and appreciation. 

If Mom is worried about you, she asks you to come over for dinner. If you’re not available for dinner, she’ll cook the meal anyway, package it and bring it over. Or better yet, if you invite her over for a special dinner at your house but she thinks you’re too busy to slave away in the kitchen, she’ll bring the meal, already cooked---and dessert, too.

If she’s grateful for something you did for her, she might bake your favorite zucchini bread or make those special strawberry cupcakes you like so much.

Family gatherings in my family are not about the conversation. People don’t really listen to your response when they ask you how work is, or what you’ve been up to lately. 

Family gatherings are about what’s on the table, whether Uncle Marco brought the cannoli, and how many helpings your belly can hold. It wasn’t until I married my non-Italian husband that I realized how odd this really is. 

In his family, people sit around for hours just talking. Food is the innocent bystander. In the early days, I found myself becoming bored and uninterested. What more is there to talk about? I thought. But more importantly, when is dessert? 

It must have been equally strange for my husband when he first began sharing meals with my family, and the only sounds were forks and knives clanging against dishes or the gluttonous sounds of smacking lips and belches. 

What he didn’t know is that, to my family, conversation is unnecessary. Gathering in the same room, breaking bread—Italian bread, that is, is the way our family says “I love you.” Conversation, if it happens, is secondary.

But don’t get me wrong. As much as food means love, it also is a very handy tool; a tool traditionally employed by the Italian Mama. 

Guilt.

“Aren’t you coming to dinner?” Mom calls and asks at 8 am.

“No, Ma. I’m busy tonight.”

Silence. And then, “But I already started making the chicken cutlets and I have all this sauce already made. I got your favorite, too.”

“What’s that, Ma?”

“Artichokes.”

“Alright, I’ll come over after work.”

It works every time.

So for Mother’s Day this year, I plan to give my mom a nice surprise to show how much I care about her. I’ll be making a big spread of our family’s favorites: eggplant parmigiana, baked ziti, stuffed mushrooms, and a green bean salad. 

That is of course, unless Mom shows up at my house with it first.

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