Memories of Food in Childhood

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food”  —George Bernard Shaw

Rich and poor tend to eat a similar healthy diet in Italy, versus in America where there is a greater distinction in diet between socio-economic classes. Raised in an Italian household, the only canned items I recall from my childhood were sardines and anchovies that played an active role especially on meatless Fridays due to religious restrictions. Mom made amazing dishes with economical small fish, especially considering the wealth of nutrition they have to offer much more than large fish popular in most American restaurants. After school or desiring a snack, a can of these small oil rich silvery fish always came in handy. I adopted this habit when raising our children before they knew they were eating head to tail fish from the sea.

Traveling with Michelle, when only 6 months old, after bananas, sardines entered her diet. Being on a budget as well as having experienced this in my childhood I introduced this delicacy to her. I observed when visiting her years later as an adult that she still loves sardines when observing a can being opened for a snack. When raising her first child a call came to me asking me how I got her to enjoy sardines being that she was not successful with her daughter Laila. I questioned her if she was  giving her options? When she answered yes, I told her that was the problem. Children can be taught to eat most items by being introduced to them at an early age, especially if eaten with others that enjoy it and having no other options when hungry.

A can of sardines in our household came in handy when there is nothing for dinner. For less than a dollar the 2 or 4 sardines in the can could provide daily nutrients for one or two people. Mother would add a little tomato sauce, fresh basil and good olive oil and served with some garlic bread and a salad to make a healthy light dinner. A variation might be some lemon and good olive oil dressing  on the sardines topping sliced boiled eggs over a bed of arugula, or added to any salad such as green beans with a good olive oil and vinegar dressing. No recipe needed, just being a little creative to produce an inexpensive dinner such as enjoyed by the rich and poor in Italy. No need to go out for fast food. My husband when living alone in an apartment during his medical residency before we met said he would add sardines to fried eggs or put over a bed of rice for dinner. Of course with some good olive oil dressing.

Often when visiting my sister Rose as I did last February, we both were salivating for a snack, when noticing a can of sardines on her shelf. As we dug into our Portuguese sardines in olive oil an American friend came unannounced. Seeing what we were enjoying with a disgusted look on her face inquired as to what in the world were we eating?

As for anchovies, I often introduce them as my secret ingredient hidden in dishes after being served to our guests who claim their hatred of anchovies. Happy to say we have served and changed the opinion of many non-anchovy eaters after experiencing them at Villa Lucia in various dishes or hidden to enrich many favorite sauces. Nevertheless they may never appreciate them with such memories as of one enjoying them in childhood.

Neophiles enjoy so many delicacies, offering many new culinary experiences such as: less expensive cuts of meats or tiny fish that are not popular but rich in nutrients. If a child is not exposed at a young age they will often remain a neophobia, eating solely recognized foods, even if occasionally trying new items as an adult to gain social mobility but lacking the memories of food in youth will have little impact on changing behavior.

Leave a Comment