The Pingree School in South Hamilton, MA is the first high school to bring The Family Dinner Project to its campus. Last semester, the students in Pingree’s Food Writing class served as ambassadors for our project, which is now expanding to the broader Pingree community.
The Food Writing class allowed students to explore their interest in food journalism – and to learn how food also expresses bigger ideas about culture, family and relationships. The following is an excerpt from a student’s essay on her idea of an ideal dinner. Enjoy!
Posted by Jennah
It’s Christmas Eve and, as tradition, I am at my grandparents’ house. This year it is quieter than most years…Nana and Grampy’s is no longer the chaotic Christmas hub from my childhood. But we still have a good crew milling around my grandparents’ kitchen and living room: me, my mom, brother, sister, aunt, grandparents, and our cocker spaniel, Lulu, are all enjoying ourselves and each other’s company.
And the one thing I love most about Christmas Eve at Nana and Grampy’s house: meatballs. Sideline the rest — presents, antipasto, apple pie, Christmas-colored Hershey’s Kisses — I was here for the meatballs. My grandmother is not a fancy cook, often teased that salt and pepper are the only seasonings that fall within her culinary ambit. But her meatballs are incredible. Not too salty or spiced, but juicy and warm and perfectly cooked, her meatballs are undoubtedly the single food I cannot live without. By the end of the night, I eat at least nine.
Everyone besides my grandmother, who is fussing over the dishes in the kitchen, is in the living room, catching up and discussing football, the weather and Christmases past. Lulu keeps disappearing from the living room, only for us to find out later that my grandmother has made her the official taste-tester for our meals. From the satiated puppy grin on her face, Nana done good.
Finally, sitting down at the dining room table, the members of my family hold hands and say grace — I mumble syllables that I hope sound like words— and the feast begins. Mangia, my grandmother says, and my mom starts a round of Saluds. For a few minutes there is a slight humming, everyone simultaneously asking another to pass that this way or scoop some of that onto this plate, please. So I help myself to what I really want: scali bread and butter, enough black olives to put on all my fingers at least once, a few pieces of American cheese, and, of course, Nana’s meatballs and gravy. Mmmmm. Christmas.
It is not the dinner that I enjoy so much about this particular night as the conversation right after we’ve eaten. Everyone is full, sated from a great meal, and in good humor. No one even bothers to put the dishes away. My mom and aunt have launched into story time, recounting tales of their childhood and reminiscing about the trouble they used to get into, evoking bursts of laughter from all around the table. My cousins are here by now, and my aunt starts telling stories about them when they were babies — particularly, the shenanigans that my cousin Britti used to find herself in, like the time she practiced her writing on the walls or the day a big blue bead “fell into her nose” when she “fell on it” (her four-year-old explanation of the incident). Immediately, every single person is bent over double at the table, laughing into their empty plates. Tears are running down my face. I love my family, and I love feeling as happy and warm as I do now. I love that my abs are going to kill in the morning. I love that Nana slips a container of meatballs and gravy into my bag as we are leaving. This, I realize, is what family is all about, and it makes me love Christmas so much more for bringing us all together like this on one special day a year.
So what does that say about family dinners? It is not what you eat, but the people you surround yourself with that make them special. Eating should be a feeling, an experience, not a vital chore. The food can be delicious, but without good company or good humor, mealtime can feel empty. And, inversely, food as simple as antipasto and meatballs can be the carte du jour of the best night ever. In the end, it is the “family” of “family dinner” that is important. Love your family, appreciate their company, and the rest comes naturally.