What’s for Dinner??!?

Donna Seemann Reed ('76A)
July 20, 2022

Raise your hand if:

  •  You NEVER ate Pizza on the road. (I’m going to go out on a limb and say not one alum raised their hand here.) Maybe that’s because you are home reading this and it seems silly to raise your hand. I suspect you did eat pizza someplace.
  • You never had spaghetti on the road. Any hands up?
  • You ate something on the road and learned after the meal what you had consumed.
  • You traveled before Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan, and Vegetarian were options that were told to your host family.
  • To this day there is or was a sauce or a soup that you could never identify.
  • You absolutely smile and shake your head if you hear the words “one meat one cheese.”

Our experiences on the road over the past 50+ years were totally different and, yet the same. We jumped on buses, arrived in cities, went home with strangers who became friends, and had dinner. For the most part we trusted what we were eating. However, now, and then, the random item appeared, and we managed to grin and bear it. We may have felt like shoving something in a milk carton as a few of us might have done with peas in the elementary school cafeteria.

As I read through and laughed at the comments on Facebook in response to my questions about food, I realized again, the commonality of things. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know that deer, moose, buffalo, and horse are common in some parts of the world. Or that chili peppers can get REALLY hot. Or that squid ink is even a thing! For some, you didn’t even realize that broccoli was a rather common vegetable. It just wasn’t part of your ‘normal.’

One of the ties that bind us together is that we wanted to please our host families. We wanted to experience the world. We wanted to try new things. Until we didn’t. Until something was staring up at us from the plate, and we didn’t want to eat the eyes of the fish or the feet of the chicken, even if it was considered a delicacy.

Some of you grew up with crawdads. Others of us would never touch those little faces. Some grew up eating crickets, eel, and octopus, and other creatures with tentacles that stuck to the plate. (Why does that sound like “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!”)

And pasta. How much pasta did we have? The pasta came from boxes and bags and with sauces of all kinds. If we were lucky, we had fresh pasta. We found out pasta could be green (when it has a vegetable added to it)! We found out that in some places, pasta was just a precursor to the entrée and that maybe we shouldn’t have eaten so much. We used what little we knew about language to figure out what we might be eating.

In my host family in Mexico, we had a lot of green food. My roommate was from Belgium so we took French words, put and ‘o’ or an ‘a’ on the end and tried to ask in Spanish what the soup of the day might be.

Bread, what about bread? About Pain? Pane? Brot? Tortillas? Fry Bread? Pita? And all the delicious cheeses that went along with them! Some of us learned that American Cheese and Velveeta were ‘cheese foods.’ Holy Fromage Batman! What did my parents do to me?

Coffee? Café? Café con leche? Kaffee? Afternoon tea! The world of coffee is so much bigger than the instant stuff my father drank.

Somewhere along the line, while traveling, we also learned the different religions ate or didn’t eat different foods. As strangers in a new world, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. And, neither did our host families. So, mostly, we did our best to smile and accommodate. Flexibility became a word used not only in where we were, who we were with, but also what we ate and what we tried. All the books in the world will never give us the firsthand experiences that we were blessed to have.

Somewhere tonight, someone is eating, and loving a food that you first tried as an eighteen, twenty or twenty-five-year-old, living an adventure that so few are fortunate to have. Tonight, celebrate, reflect and maybe, just maybe, try something new!

3 thoughts on “What’s for Dinner??!?”

  1. Nutella! I remember my first European host family having that on the breakfast table! It became a favorite then (1986) and still love it ’til this day!

  2. In one house in Kanazawa, Japan they wanted to cook us American food. We were served tiny pieces of potato with milk and butter but the potato was almost raw. Of course we ate the lumps with our chop sticks and drank the broth ! We learned so much about the world.

  3. My roommate and I decided to make our host family in Portugal an American meal. Eventually that idea didn’t work well so we settled on Coke floats. They were so nervous and made sure we knew the directions to the hospital. Ultimately they loved it!


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