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Column: What’s on the table? The bounty of our local food sources

Karen Beardslee Kwasny [Courtesy]

BY KAREN BEARDSLEE KWASNY

VIRGINIA BEACH — It’s times like this, when we’re hunkered down at home, that the old family recipes come to mind.  

On a recent morning, I found myself digging out my grandmothers’ recipe books and making a list of the supplies I would need to get started.  I said to my son, “On Sunday we’ll make crustals (an Italian pastry my mother’s mother used to make), sticky buns (my father’s mother’s favorite), and peanut butter eggs (my mother’s Easter treat).”

Ambitious, I know.  

However, I also understand how invaluable is the comfort found in food made from recipes marked by years of use, a few sugary smudges and my grandmothers’ notations reminding me that sugar cookies are “Sis’s favorite” and Italian Chews are “very good” with coffee.  

Our food defines us and grounds us.  A quick social media check illustrates the role food plays in our sense of stability and belonging.  

Everywhere these days are “reach outs,” asking where certain foods can be found, which stores are carrying butter, eggs or milk.   Ubiquitous are the posts explaining how to best use what we have in our cupboards, how to make it last longer or create more than one meal with it.  

But the most prominent food posts in this time of crisis are those imploring us to frequent our local food sources – our mom and pop specialty food shops, restaurants, artisan markets and farms.  And many of us are doing just that. We are engaging food in new and unique ways.  

Suddenly, we find ourselves in the pick-up line at the local farmer’s market, waiting for fresh bread, produce and homemade soups. We’re circling the food trucks for tacos and gourmet burgers. And, at my home we’re begging our neighbor – who owns one of the best little eateries in town – to deliver dinners to the hood so we can spoil ourselves while supporting those small businesses struggling to stay afloat through these dizzying social-distancing days.  

Are we suffering from a food shortage, a loss of supply, a bare pantry?  Not most of us – not in the classic sense.  

Instead, thanks to the food sources around us – farmers, restaurateurs, bakers, butchers, chefs and cooks – we can get something akin to the old family recipe every day if we dig deep and offer up.  

After all, here in Virginia Beach, there truly is a bountiful harvest.  

We think of food as nutrition for the body. We write our grocery lists with an eye to a bargain and the quick and easy meal.  I’m guilty of this.  

But I know food is so much more than macronutrients and what I put on the table.  Food has always been a way to connect us to loved ones and to convey ourselves to others. We present it as welcome and gratitude, in times of joy and sorrow.  Intuitively, we know that when we offer food, we offer sustenance for the soul.  

Today, more than any other time in recent history, our food defines us.  Let’s make it about the good people here in Virginia Beach who make food for a living. 


Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny is an assistant professor of English at Saint Leo University.She teaches and publishes in the fields of folklore, multicultural literature and composition. Her two books are Literary Legacies, Folklore Foundations and Translating Tradition.


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