Comfort food is a term used very widely these days, and it means a lot of different things to different people and different cultures. But the common thread here is that it is usually food that you had growing up that someone who loved you more than anyone else ever would, cooked for your nourishment and happiness. It can be pie that your Granny cooked like no-one else ever has. It could be beans and cornbread served with homemade chow-chow and fresh sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplins, corned beef and cabbage, spaghetti and homemade marinara, stir fried chicken and vegetables in a wok, kimchee made from scratch, chopped chicken liver pate made with schmaltz. Where you come from, the food you eat, the things you crave, most importantly the food that gives you comfort, speaks to who you are. And who you are sometimes needs a little pat on the head and warmth in the tummy. A comforting meal can be like a shoulder to lean on when times get tough. Now I know there are people out there who do not put this much importance in the food they eat, I have never met them, but I hear tell they are out there.
One of the absolute toughest times in my life involved a desperate dash to New York City on a week long mission I hope to never repeat. I was alone. I was immensely focused on the many tasks I had to accomplish and I was short on money. It has been over a decade since then and I can still remember how it felt in the pit of my stomach the whole time I was there. I was in full fight mode for the entire week. Every lesson I had ever learned in my life up to that point was necessary to accomplish what I needed. It was winter, it was cold and it was grey. There was one lucky thing, one wonderful family owned a cafe that fate allowed me. Joe’s on 5th avenue, the Avenue of the Americas. They were a Greek family that welcomed me like I was their own. I sat at the counter most times and spoke with one of them as they worked. I found out much later they were quite famous for their hamburgers cooked on the flat-top. They had like 400 things on the menu, I couldn’t believe the offering. But I found down near the bottom, something called a chopped egg sandwich. It was $3.50. An amazing price in NY city at that time. It was beautifully baked handmade white bread cut in very thick slices with about 4 boiled chopped eggs mixed with a touch of mayo piled 1 inch thick between the bread. It was huge. It was nourishing. It tasted like home. It was a small reprieve, an exceptional ray of hope served to my southern soul when I needed it most. It helped fill the pit that had become my stomach. It was $3.50. And the conversation I had daily with the many different family members that ran that narrow cafe became like home to me for a few minutes. Human kindness and good food can save your life.
What I would like in this astonishing time in these United States, times I never thought I would see again, is to sit down at a very long table with all different peoples and all different comfort foods to share a meal and human kindness. Because human kindness and good food can save your life and it can lead to an understanding that we all are indeed one. And those people that I hear tell don’t think food is that important, we’ll invite them too.