Of Food and Distance

November 7, 2011
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Everyone knows (on some level) that things change with enough time or with enough distance, or with enough of a combination thereof. And food is no exception; food changes with distance as well.

I happen to consider myself something of an expert on both food and on distance.

I’ve moved states three times in my life. The first place I lived in-the place where I was born-was Georgia. From my experience, Georgia is a tossed salad of seafood, grits, and peaches. We had crab at least once a week, and in the summer the crab was that which my dad and us kids caught, cleaned, and boiled. Shrimp was by far my favorite food, and there was always plenty of it, served with spicy and sweet cocktail sauce that has always had a way of making my mouth water. And grits? I would rank grits between the Civil War cannon standing in Charleston and football on the southern pride scale. It would not be a surprise to me to find out that some southerner, at some point, tried to put a commandment about the sin of using of insta-grits in the bible. Buttery and warm and creamy wonderful, it is still hard for me to believe that people up in the more northern states could have gone a lifetime without knowing what grits are. Peaches speak for themselves. As the state fruit, there is an overabundance of the fuzzy, sweet things, and I know many Georgians that blatantly hate them for their commonness.

When I moved to my second abode, Colorado, the first thing I missed right of the bat was the shrimp. In a state nowhere near the ocean, any kind of fish was expensive. Shrimp became a treat rather than a common appetizer, and I was melancholy for it for a good two weeks before my young mind was finally too distracted by the trampoline in the backyard to linger on such sad affairs. Shrimp was listed on restaurant menus often for 14 dollars or more; “highway robbery” was my dad’s pet name for it. And we proud southerners could not believe the descriptions underneath shrimp on the menu! The man behind the curtain, that shadowy, mysterious figure otherwise known as the “Writer of Menus”; what was he thinking when he used words like “elegant” and “masterpiece” to describe shrimp? Our mindset on the matter was simple, positively blunt compared to these westerners and their mindsets. Shrimp is shrimp is shrimp. Some shrimp is bigger than other shrimp, some of it is fresher, some of it is skinned, and some of it needs skinning, but in the end, it’s all just shrimp.
Only my mother was unconcerned with the matter. As a New Yorker at heart and a world-traveler on the side, she’s seen ridiculous prices and food descriptions in languages I haven’t even heard of. She once told me about her dealings in a particularly fancy restaurant, and she said that there was a waiter there who, she crosses her heart and hopes to die, vacuumed the tablecloth with every bite of her food she took. “It was worth it for the steak,” she added with a satisfied nod.

My life quickly became the life of a health nut in Colorado. All-natural food markets full of hippies and hikers, everywhere. Walkers, runners, bikers, fresh fruit and vegetables, healthy advertising- all everywhere. Now, if I wanted a snack, I had granola or celery and peanut butter. If Georgia was a salad of peaches and fish and grits, then my life in Colorado was a salad. Period. Plenty of kids my age there didn’t like any kind of seafood, which puzzled me exceedingly.

Then I moved to New York. Seafood got a little cheaper, and my love for shrimp was once again satisfied. But the new, notable, thing was the baked goods. Cookies, bread, pie, croissants, cobblers-I ate more baked goods in the first week of being in New York than I did in a year in Colorado. My mother, who has always been something of a great baker, thrived, and before long we were having pumpkin bread for breakfast every morning. And the apples! There were so many crunchy, wonderful, delicious apples, more even than the fruit and granola bearing tree of Colorado.

But sometimes I couldn’t stand them, the apples, I mean. It was the same with the granola and the healthy food. Sometimes, I just wanted to go back to the days that I ate crab and shrimp and grits and peaches with my family, the days when there wasn’t a world beyond my own, no food but the food on the plate in front of me. Sometimes, the very thought of granola or baked goods was enough to make me physically sick, and the thought of peaches was enough to make my heart ache with homesickness.

Those were the times that I fell back on the cheesy, doughy, wonderful decadence of pizza.

What can I say? Some things just always stay the same, and pizza is one of them. No matter what corner of the country in, whatever nook or cranny you’ve wedged yourself into, you are a rare person indeed if you can’t enjoy a good slice of pizza every once in a while. It’s everywhere, all over the place, sacred to all and unfamiliar to none. Unconquerable. In a way, pizza is on the outside of the rest of the food world; a bystander, watching grits and granola pass it by and knowing, without needing to be told, that it will be victorious at the end of the race. That it is, to a person moving from state to state, home.

It’s important to remember pizza.

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