Jewish Food and Problems

    February 2009            
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What Eats at Me!

By Wendy Reichental

When I married my husband I knew that our families were shall we say unique, but no where did this seem more apparent than at our mutual family dinners. My parents being from Eastern Europe have the unfortunate ingrained mentality that food equals survival. The opposite can be said of my husband and his family who are born bred Canadian. While my husband's family is still like mine Jewish, the food thing manages to be a sore spot or rather indigestible problem between us. You see eating with my family is something you do with appetite, gusto and relish. Over at his family, you're lucky to witness any relish on the table or otherwise! Condiments are rare, and rarer still is the messy kind of down home eating where guards are down, and I'm not just talking napkins here, but where you can truly be your authentic self. At his family functions, dinner is where you sit up straight, position a cloth napkin promptly on your lap, mind your Ps and Qs, and navigate your way through an abundance of excessive cutlery made unnecessary really because there's nothing to eat!

A typical dinner with my husband's side of the family begins with the announcement that no ingredients went into the food we are about to not eat and enjoy! Ok, I'm being slightly unfair but accurate, in any case, I sit at the table and start slowly counting on mute mode in my head FOUR...THREE...TWO...ONE...and BINGO! On cue, someone declares what new food groups they are currently pooh poohing and completely avoiding. Wishing I could avoid dinner, but unable to, I am instead seen pilfering for whatever food I can find and wolfing it down like a ravenous lunatic. While I search for a dish, the others are busy dishing about what exorbitant non-meal they recently non-ate at some f a b u l o u s new restaurant! This entails a most animated description of something sparse, or raw, adorned with a single sprig of chive, presented on an oversized square white plate, served no doubt with an air of arrogance on the side. Meanwhile, my stomach continues to gurgle and I feel empty.

In contrast dinner with my family involves someone welcoming us at the door with a food stained apron, and the house exploding with mouthwatering savoring aromas. No sooner are we seated and my mother has begun her usual badgering battle with my husband about why he won't sample the appetizers, have any chicken soup (her sworn cure-all) or at least have seconds of everything! Also heard are the sounds of gulping, "greptsin" Yiddish for belching, burping slurping, and all performed at once and with relative ease and theatrics. It's my family's version of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" only here we call it "Kvetching Together, Harmful Digestion". When dessert is offered my husband can be heard once again staunchly refusing my mother's invitation for homemade warm compote and a cup of her hot tea (another remedy that cures all ills).

It's at this point when I feel completely full! Full of awareness about how different my husband and I are in relation to our upbringing with food and how these experiences have shaped our personalities and who we are today. For instance I tend to be more accommodating and overly eager to make our guests feel at home and doing so with food is what I do best. My husband on the other hand believes that if someone is thirsty they can mosey along to our fridge and help themselves to a drink. In my parent's home that would be unheard of, a sacrilege! Back at my mother's and she is already following us to the door holding out a package of the comfort food leftovers she insists we take home sparing me from cooking for a good few days. Feeling quite "verklempt" and with my heart and belly heavy, I hug and kiss my mom good-bye. The thing is food has a natural binding effect that goes way behind ingredients; it should bring all people together in a genuine and relaxed atmosphere. I strongly believe it should be a pleasing unpretentious experience leaving you with no bitter aftertaste or craving something with more substance and less froth afterwards. Ess gezunterhait! May you eat in good health!


from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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