Alexander

Friday night in suburban New Jersey was the time teen-aged Alexander and his friends cut loose and headed out to the mall. Freedom. Maybe they’d stop for a burger or a slice on the way, a quick bite. But there was something Alexander couldn’t get out of his mind. Back home about now, his mom and dad and their best friends, the Ks, would be pouring wine, laughing, and sitting down to a stupendous, beautifully grilled Pacific salmon. He had tasted some once in Seattle and it was out of this world. And here he was, about to eat fast food out of a bag and miss everything.

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Charlotte

Her mother was such an unhappy cook that Charlotte almost lost all interest in food as a child. Meat and potatoes, overcooked frozen vegetables, balogna on Wonder Bread. Lucky for her she lived near the ocean. In the summertime there were scallops, quahogs, and all kinds of seafood. Clambakes on the beach with lobsters and crabs and potatoes and corn steaming in an underground pit. But it wasn’t until college that she began to experience a wide range of food. Before long she was learning how to produce most of her own food. Nothing was the same after that.

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Jane

She was only six years old but Jane loved ice cream so much that one day she and a friend got lost walking all the way downtown to get some. She craved candy too, but it was forbidden by her father who was a dentist. Yet she was never short of sweets. Her home was fragrant with baking — cakes, cookies, brownies, pie made with apples from local orchards. She loved desserts, along with the good meat and bread and vegetables her mother served. And especially the seafood on Nantucket where her family spent the summer. She was eager to help her mother in the kitchen. She found food fascinating and wanted to learn how to cook it.

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Maria

When Maria was a young girl her mother began taking her along to family gatherings with her mother’s sisters and sometimes her brothers. Those were days of cooking and eating the kinds of food that reflected the family’s Mexican heritage. But at home Maria’s mother disliked cooking and turned out bland meat and potato meals with tasteless overcooked canned vegetables. It was a relief on weekends when the family turned to fast food chains like McDonalds or Wendy’s, but even better when they went over to an aunt and uncle’s house on Sundays for a delicious home-cooked dinner.

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Elizabeth

Sitting in a red leatherette booth, Elizabeth, just 10, sipped her cocktail of lemon soda and grenadine garnished with a maraschino cherry on a toothpick. She really didn’t need the menu to decide what she wanted – her favorite, spaghetti with meatballs. The meatballs had strange green stuff inside that she might have picked out at home, but for now she would eat everything just like it was. She took a piece of Italian bread from the basket. Then, when no one was looking, she cut off a piece of butter from the little waxed cardboard square and stuck it straight into her mouth. This was heaven. She loved eating in restaurants.

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Humphrey

Once in a while, when he would leave his Dallas high school to deliver the school newspaper to the printer, Humphrey would stop off at Peggy’s Barbecue for a brisket sandwich with onion rings. Another favorite place was Jack’s Burger Shack where burgers and fries were sprinkled with celery salt. Simple, but it made all the difference to Humphrey. He loved food. His whole family loved food. It bound the generations and the siblings together, connecting them to the foods of his grandparents in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Whatever it was, chitlins, duck with shot still in it, Tex-Mex, his mom’s fried chicken and cream gravy, his grandmother’s apricot fried pies. And especially the barbecue his dad introduced him to.

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Hanna

Twelve-year-old Hanna came home from school hungry. She walked across the green and gray checkered floor of her mother’s spotless kitchen, opened the door of the big refrigerator, and scanned it for a snack. A gallon of milk. Ugh, she hated its tasteless whiteness. Cocktail olives. A frosty bottle of Beefeaters. Moldy American cheese. A dried-up chunk of pot roast. Mayonnaise. Cold shriveled raisins. She closed the door and went to the pantry. She reached for the top can from a stack of six or seven, cranked the can opener and took a fork out of the drawer. In this house, a can of tuna fish was about as good as it got, definitely as good as she was going to get.

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