Primitive men and women were hunter-gatherers. Eating was catch as catch can. Sharing was essential. If one of them ran across a nut tree in the forest, he or she didn’t keep it to himself or herself. Survival of their tribe demanded that they run and tell the rest. They stored very little, but ate whatever could be consumed on the spot — and hunted for another source.
Some would say that the behavior of teenagers in the food court of a large mall indicates that this human instinct is still strong.
But in every age and in every way, humans periodically drop whatever else they are doing and hunt for chow.
My farm mother had five sons and a husband to deal with. We did grace on special occasions – large family gatherings, church holidays, etc., but my dad’s everyday injunction, once the vittles were on the table, was to “grab and growl!” Nothing was wasted. Leftover mashed potatoes became potato croquettes later. Left over baked beans were slathered on sandwiches with a sliced onion and packed in school lunches.
Anything that survived this feeding frenzy went into the slop bucket for the hogs. It is for certain that every now and then these critters dined on the remains of one of their comrades who had made the supreme sacrifice before them. Were they sentient, they might have found temporary solace in Von Braun’s assertion that “Nature does not know extinction. It only knows transformation.” Temporary, I say — that transformation was destined to be next winter’s bacon.
There was a sign over the mess hall of one military installation I spent some time at. It read, “Eat all you want, but eat all you take.” I knew of a few guys who took this to heart. They would gobble down their first tray of food in a mad rush so they could get back in line for another go at it.
At one base, I was invited by one of the storekeepers to accompany him on a truck trip to a large depot that warehoused food meant for military installations in that particular section of the east coast. I was off duty and figured I would enjoy the ride. The SK had been given a list of items he was to pick up for our unit. They would be waiting to be loaded for him.
As he checked off his sheet, one of the warehouse workers informed him that there had been a run on the more popular ice cream flavors. All he had to give us was pistachio. We ate pistachio ice cream for the next several weeks. Look, most folks can breeze through a month with only chocolate or vanilla as their options. But pistachio? I have not touched it since.
My new wife could not cook – came from a long line of women, in fact, who could not cook. I did not know this in advance. Actually she didn’t either until she questioned her mother about her mother. And aunts, and various cousins… “Did you know that your great Aunt Agnette hated to cook?”
I knew a little and was willing to experiment. I had to, really, for self-preservation. I became so familiar with Lipton’s chicken noodle soup that I could tell when they made subtle changes to the formula. “Lipton’s has done it again,” I would say.
Early on she mastered eggs — boiled and scrambled, although an omelet escaped her – and does to this day.
When my wife and I raised a family of our own, we rediscovered what generations of parents before us had already found out.
Our boys had a garage rock band and the house was for some time a teen hangout. Rehearsals took place in our cellar game room. Other parents pointed out that we, at least, knew where they were. Oh, did we know. Every nail in the house was loose. On one occasion, rehearsal coincided with our dinnertime, and we had made a nice casserole. It wouldn’t have fed them anyway, and a Matthew 14 loaves and fishes multiplication was beyond us. As the latest rock riffs billowed up from the basement and filled the rest of the house, we called friends across town. Could we come to their place for dinner? We’d bring it! We put our casserole in the car and headed out.
No need for fine dining or niceties. Invariably these pals would be kids from the swim or wrestling teams of the local HS. They were always in training. You have not lived until you have fed wrestlers who are moving up to a bigger weight class for a coming meet. We cooked spaghetti by the tub-full.
I used to do backpacking trips with my sons and an occasional buddy. On one such trip, we all packed one of the big chocolate mega bars…designed for a week’s survival, I would guess. On the trail, I took mine out at occasional rest stops and nibbled a bite or two before putting it back in my pack. About two hours into the hike, the boys were eying my stash and confessed that they had polished their own bars off.
This particular trail bordered a vineyard in the New York grape country. It was no effort at all to hop off the trail a step or two and grab a bunch of grapes in passing. I am sure the vineyard owner planned on losing a few bunches to the occasional hikers. Luckily for him, the boys’ plunder was limited to what they could carry in their hands without breaking stride on the hike. We grabbed an afternoon snack and trekked on.
That night we pulled into a family campground that was not far off our hiking trail. I set up the tent, stowed the packs, lit a campfire, started the little gas stove to heat up some water – then relaxed while our freeze-dried food rehydrated for cooking. After we had eaten, the boys wondered if we might also finish off the breakfast stuff we had brought. And go hungry for breakfast? I couldn’t believe this.
I pointed out that this was a family campground and there were probably lots of folks there with teenagers – likely a few girls, too. I assured them they weren’t the worst looking boys in the state. Why not cruise the grounds, and casually, strike up a conversation here and there to see if a hotdog or burger invitation might be forthcoming? Off they went. Hunters and – hopeful – gatherers.
For many years Jimmy Anderson ran a popular restaurant in Charlotte near the Presbyterian hospital. Jimmy was a genuine Greek – his son, Gary, told me his untranslated name would be Demostanis Anageros Andritsanos. I ate at Anderson’s several times over the years, and never met Jimmy personally, but heard he was a genial and generous soul. He passed on in 1988, and Charlotte was saddened by its loss.
The restaurant picked up a lot of hospital traffic — patients and visitors coming and going. Some perhaps having a final restaurant meal before a hospital stay, or ones coming off a stay and back in the world of mashed potatoes, meatloaf, “The World’s Best Pecan Pie,” as Jimmy called it — and the other sturdy dishes that Jimmy served. It was not uncommon to see people with canes and crutches and bandages coming and going on the arm of caregivers. Uniformed nurses, doctors and local businessmen often complimented the crowd.
One time a woman with a small infant walked in — perhaps in the neighborhood because of some hospital business. She asked Jimmy to give her a rear booth with a little privacy because she had to breast feed her baby. Jimmy graciously complied.
Although she was as discreet as she could make it, an observable customer noticed and complained to Jimmy. Jimmy replied, “Hey — everybody’s gotta eat!”
Right on Jimmy. RIP.
“Feeding the Hungry” is from Chuck Thurston’s “Senior Scribbles Second Dose” – available from Indigo Sea Press and Amazon. He is working on a third book, pausing only a few times a week to refuel at the dinner table.