Serving Us Right


I tried a deep-fried Twinkie the other night. It was, in a word, awful. Still, the four of us took perverse pleasure in our shared sin of nutritional naughtiness. That said, I’ll never order another.

Four days later, a waiter set before me a martini-style glass filled with beautifully light vanilla and hazelnut gelato studded with fresh berries. It was, in a word, wonderful. I will have another, and actually could have consumed a second serving right then.

Well-prepared food can transform a day. And certain meals can last a lifetime.

The best restaurant pie I have ever tasted was a mixed-berry confection at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The fruit was fresh and local, and the craft was definitely state-fair blue-ribbon worthy. That food memory is wrapped in the recollection of a summer evening when, there at the far edge of the Eastern Time Zone, it was light until nearly 11.

In times of peril, when your life flashes before your eyes, I imagine that the final images might include a memorable meal. Miss USA, Dearborn beauty Rima Fakih, told us that when she donned her winning tiara while wearing a form-fitting dress, all she could think of was pizza.

Food sustains us in trying times. I’ve heard that Barbra Streisand calms her jitters while performing by envisioning what she’ll have for dinner after the show.

Like family, neighborhood, and hometown, food is a safe harbor. It’s a time out, except for road warriors who scarf down a drive-thru meal without lifting a foot off the gas.

Once, while on the road as a young reporter on assignment covering a crime in a small Michigan town, I knocked on the door of a woman who, as it turned out, was the mother of the sheriff. She didn’t much want to talk about a murder that had her community on edge and in the statewide spotlight. But she ushered me into her kitchen, where she made a demonstration of local hospitality. As she talked and I wrote, she cut a hefty slab from a just-baked loaf of bread, liberally spread the slice with butter and homemade jam, and presented it to me on a small plate.

It was a gesture that underscored a point she wanted to make clear, that her bucolic community had nothing to do with a cold-blooded interloper except bad luck.

The heart of a community is food.

Here in Detroit, at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, young teen mothers earn a high-school diploma while tending gardens, labor that produces tangible rewards. Digging in the dirt clears the head. Seeing (and eating) the results feeds the soul.
It’s an age-old ritual that brings us back down to earth.