© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gluten Free-Range Bananas: The Modern Eater

Every morning, I eat a banana for breakfast.  My banana is not a gluten free-range banana.  Nor is it a banana with a sticker that proclaims, “No tarantulas were harmed in the picking of this fruit.”  It is a plain old banana.

When did eating become so complicated?

My paternal grandparents, Santa and Sebastiano, cooked simple dishes based on recipes straight from the Old Country. Some of my earliest and most traumatic food-related memories are based on meals served in their apartment.

Once, while sitting in a dark bathroom,  (Santa did not like to waste electricity), I noticed a burlap bag moving and clucking at my feet. What could it be?  The next day, I walked into Santa’s kitchen to see a pair of chicken feet sticking out of a pot of boiling water.  I could view this as my first Farm to Table experience.  However, to be accurate, it was a Bathroom to Table experience and it gave me nightmares.

A second nightmare-inducing event was to find cow brains simmering on the back burner of Santa’s kitchen stove. Family friends had told us that eating brains made you smarter.  Honestly, I didn’t observe any marked increase in intelligence among us.  However, I always will remember the disgustingly sweet smell of cooking brains.

Sebastiano often came home from Long Island Sound with snails, mussels, clams and, yuckiest of all, eels.  Usually, he’d dip the eel in flour then fry it. Once, he grilled an eel in the back driveway of our nine-family tenement.  Have you ever smelled an eel grilling?  The stench is much like burning rubber, only more nauseating.

However, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  So, to be fair, I should mention that Santa hated mayonnaise, a common ingredient in American cooking.  She’d point to the most unlikely food, like a slice of roast beef, and ask, “Ees mayonnaise in this?  No like mayonnaise!”

Years ago, I went to graduate school in northern New England, a place where very few last names ended in a vowel.  In fact, I was the sole member of my Italian-American Club.

One time, I decided to bring biscotti to a potluck dinner at the college. No one ate a crumb. These were the days before specialty coffee shops, so nobody recognized biscotti as a potentially delicious food source.

Later, at home, I dunked those rejected biscotti into my warmed milk and wept softly.  Okay, I didn’t weep softly, but I did feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land—not Italian enough to enjoy grilled eel and not American enough to bring an acceptable dessert to a potluck.

Recently, as I prepared for a family reunion, I listed everyone’s preferences and dietary requirements: no sugar, gluten, fat, dark greens, walnuts, pork, fish, mint, mayo, dairy, saffron and last but not least, no food with non-smooth texture.

I’m not complaining.  I’m not judging.  Yet, planning a menu for my relatives is a daunting task.

In the olden days, family reunion or not, Santa would have handed out bowls of steaming Chicken Foot Soup. Eat up, or eat out. End of discussion.

Charlottesville writer, Deborah M. Prum, is  the author  of FIRST KISS AND OTHER CAUTIONARY TALES, a collection of her essays that have aired on NPR-member stations.  More of her work can be foundhere.

Related Content
  • With Mother's Day on the way, many are wracking their brains -- trying to come up with just the right gift. Charlottesville author Deborah Prum doesn't…
  • When I was eighteen, my cousin Umberto visited us from Italy. I sat in the passenger seat of Umberto’s rental car as he sped through a red light at a busy…
  • Gifts from Debby's Dad
    With the holidays now here, many people are still wracking their brains for last-minute gift ideas, but that's never a problem for one man -- the father…
  • Many Virginians will resolve this new year to exercise more -- but Charlottesville author Deborah Prum has discovered limits to what working out can…
  • Make A Wish
    A month into the new year, and Charlottesville author Deborah Prum is thinking about how people can make their wishes come true. A video has been making…
  • Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance, but even after the holiday has passed, Charlottesville writer Deborah Prum likes to muse about the people she…
  • There’s an image that’s gone viral on the internet—spreading through social media and in-boxes around the world. This hand-made poster looks like it’s…