Food Reads: “In a War Zone, Finding Solace in Food”

17 Feb

Once in a while, an article speaks to me. It’s not the images, it’s not the famous byline. Rather, it’s the story that captures me and doesn’t let go. I don’t complain since I want to be taken and transported in a different dimension.

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Tonight, I found that article. I was doing my nightly news routine, checking my favorite sites (once a news junkie, always a news junkie) and stumbled upon Alissa Rubin’s moving tale of finding comfort in food while on assignment in Afghanistan. Recalling T.S. Eliot, Rubin survives with more than just dry soups and flavorless, pre-packaged so-called food, but learns the way of the land. Although daunting, the unfamiliar becomes the norm.

There was so much I did not understand that first winter about how important it is to carry reminders of home when you go to hostile places. The hardest part was never the bombs, it was the lack of the familiar, a sense of the predictable, of even the most mundane pleasure. War zones are stripped down. Usually there are no choices — about what to eat, or much else. The food is mostly cold and functional. The kind you can shove into a pocket or throw under a car seat: protein bars, raisins, a box of potato chips. These are calories, not cuisine.

One more passage…one that touched my heart.

The Parmesan had personal resonance: it was a reminder of the year I lived in Italy and decided to become a foreign correspondent and learned to cook by living in a community of working-class women from Campania. They grew rosemary and sage on their windowsills; as I grated my Parmesan in my Kabul kitchen, I would smell rosemary although none grew there.

Oh, and for the record, she has my dream job.

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