Friday, February 6, 2009

Early Lessons in Social Justice

Years ago when I was in college a psychology professor stated, "Food is love." He then went on to explain why. Growing up in a large Italian-American household, I learned early on that food was love, it was something I experienced. My Aunt Connie who lived upstairs from my family, was always cooking delicious Italian meals. She still is. My mother was also an excellent cook. I was determined, when I realized the importance of good food, to learn how to cook like them. I have mastered Italian tomato sauce, which is the basis for so many dishes and other traditional Italian foods. I watched my mother and aunt cook, as a young adult, I wanted to learn from them. I knew I had to watch them to find out. Later on my own family and friends, benefited from that determination. 
So growing up, food and the socialization that took place at meals was filled with love. It was a time to communicate, discuss, share stories, laugh and gather together. Now sociologists are noting that mealtime is crucial for modern families. Families who eat together, especially dinner, gain much from the experience. Children who eat dinner with their families gain tremendous benefits and are less likely to do drugs. That's how important it is.
In the house on East 52nd Street where I spent my childhood, I learned from my family about social justice. It wasn't until years later that I realized that my family, by always inviting neighbors, relatives or friends to share lunch or dinner were teaching the younger members of the family about sharing, kindness, giving and love. There was always more than enough food, of course, in case people should stop by unexpectedly. People would come and go, and they would enjoy the food and company. And I would listen intently to those stories that came into that house, from all over Brooklyn. Relatives and friends would come by from South Brooklyn, as we called it. There were stories from "the docks," stories from Bensonhurst and Red Hook. The stories always fascinated me and my brother and cousins. Now that I think about it, it was like growing up on a sitcom. So years later when I was in college and the psychology professor stated, "Food is love," I thought to myself, he's absolutely right, I learned that from my family.