A few years ago, I had a phone call that turned our lives upside down. It was from my sister, who had just been diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.
We were devastated.
We were also spread out across the country – I lived in Dorset with our parents, my brother was in Macclesfield and my sister lived with her fiancé in Leeds. But Jenn asked us to do something that evening; something very simple, something very small, but something that I’ve been thinking about ever since: she asked us all to have pizza and beer for dinner.
There was a feeling of being together, in the knowledge that in Dorset, in Leeds and in Macclesfield we were all tucking into pizza and beer.
The idea that’s been slowly maturing in the back of my mind is this: Food has a way of uniting us; across distances and across cultures. It’s a universal language. You don’t have to speak a word of the local dialect to understand the look of delight on the face of someone eating a delicious morsel. People who’ve never been to India, Asia or Africa list dishes that originated in those countries as their favourite foods (Vindaloo is, of course, the red herring). Jewish and Italian foods, imported to the USA with immigrants escaping war-torn Europe, have become synonymous with American food. We learn to cook by watching our parents and then are inspired by TV chefs (love them or hate them, at least ‘food trends’ get us in the kitchen, preserving the knowledge handed down to us without us even realising it).
And it brings us together, family and friends, united by traditions centered around food, from a time when feasting was reserved for special events: Christmas and Thanksgiving, Eid and Holi, Passover and New Years celebrations all over the world. We use food, lavish and spectacular, to mark the dates that are important to us, whether they’re universal or just familial, to treat ourselves and to say to our nearest and dearest “I made this for you, because you are important to me.”
Ever since that phone call, Friday night has been pizza and beer night. It’s a way of remembering the closeness we felt, eating together, hundreds of miles apart.
Cooking tonight, a pizza Jenn would, I think, have loved, I can picture the smile she’d have (though I would probably have been only semi-jokingly chided for going over the top with the truffle oil!), and the dinners we had gathered around the old dining table, when the beer, wine and laughter flowed and all the arguments and strife could be forgotten for the sake of sharing time, and food, together.Taleggio, rocket & fennel pizza (with truffle!)
Whatever you’re eating tonight, whoever you’re eating it with, enjoy yourselves.