Someone recently said to me, “Food is love.  Love is food.” And my response was, “I love food, but I love people more.”

I’m of Italian heritage.  If you are Italian, you know this means that food is central to all gatherings.  I have fond memories of visiting my Nana and having her give me a piece of day old bread dunked in her homemade sauce.  “Taste this.  Tell me what you think?”  Or of my father making me “test” the meatballs before adding them to the sauce by frying up a few.  “How are they?”  he would ask, (as if he didn’t already know that they were delicious.)  Anyone that knows me, knows that I love “good food”.

But is food love?  Is food really what bonds us? .

These are important questions in a society where food is literally everywhere.  Where obesity rates have climbed to all time high, and in a society where 1 in 13 children can have a fatal reaction…to food.

Ever since my daughter was diagnosed with food allergies, I have had to reexamine my own relationship with food as well as our culture’s relationship with food.

What is it about food that people literally feel such a guttural response to?  One answer, I guess, would be very simple. We need food to live.  The need for food, for sustenance begins as soon as that first cell divides.  And I suppose, initially we bond with those that supply us with food.  But research shows that infants that are given purely what they need to sustain life: food, water, a place to sleep, but don’t receive love, will die.

So, what was it that made me feel “loved” when my Nana made me my favorite dish, her homemade gnocchi?  Was it the taste of the delicate pillows of pasta that were hand rolled off the tines of my Nana’s fork?  Was it the special recipe, the ingredients?  Or was it something else?

I think what made me feel loved was knowing that she worked for hours creating something just for me.  I know now that it really was not the food that made it special.  I know this because gnocchi really doesn’t taste the same since she died, even using her recipe.  It really was not the food.  It was her.  It was the sharing.

So, to you, my community, my daughter’s community, I ask you to really think about it.   When we break bread together, does it matter what kind of bread it is? Or are we breaking the bread because it a symbol that we are sharing something more important than food?  We are giving and receiving.  We are caring for one another.  Isn’t that what being a part of a community is all about?  We can’t care for one another, we can’t truly be a community, if we exclude people.

So the next time that food enters the equation, I beg you to think of the 6 million children and 9 million adults that need to be careful about every bite they take.  When planning an event ask, “What are we trying to accomplish by having this event?”   If we can achieve the same result without food, let’s get rid of it.  If we need the food, ask: “Are there better, healthier, safer options that could work for everyone?”   Because what matters most is not really the food that is on the table.   What matters most is the people that are gathered around that table.

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