I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family of six boys, which ate, as one friend declared, like lions on the
Serengeti. Our family doctor, Dr. Sweeney, once said “ Keep your fingers and hands away from them
when they go to work”. The only sound that could be heard was the din of the knives and forks coming
together in frenzied brilliance—we were eating savants.
The Irish catholic families of my generation had two food groups, not exactly the pyramid you see in
educational manuals, but a brick of meat and potatoes. Essentially, if it wasn’t for ketchup, we might
have all gotten scurvy. Our family would sit down to meatloaves the size of Greek islands and piles of
mashed potatoes resembling the Himalayan peaks. People would always marvel at our appetites, but
one must look at the collective unconscious of the Irish, to understand where that comes from. When
tyrants starve a people for hundreds of years, and allow a significant portion of the population to
subside almost entirely on one tuber in a slave like existence, you begin to realize the origins of that
trope. The wasting of food was the worst sin in our family. God forbid you took something you couldn’t
finish, or worse, tried to throw out a portion of the meal….better to have been arrested than that.
I remember the first day my sister in law came over for dinner with the family…can you say culture
shock? She grew up in a very cerebral quiet family, which ate portions the size of fists and cordially
discussed the day’s events. In our family, dinner was more a contact sport, like hurling or Irish football…
a Darwinian struggle to get to the carcass. She was a very sweet woman who brought out the meatballs,
all the size of baseballs, to the table. She then helped my saintly mother (yes saintly) bring out the rest of
the food. My family, not accustomed to guests, dug in with their usual fervor without considering there
was one more mouth to feed. When my saintly (yes saintly) sister in law finally sat down there was no
food to be taken. The Irish had done it again, stole the last supper behind her back and from beneath
her very nose. Well, she did what every other civilized person would do, she began to cry. My brothers
realizing the error of their ways, reacted by scraping their meatballs and spaghetti onto to her plate.
Now, she had a pile on her plate that could feed most small villages; the absurdity of the situation finally
produced laughter all around. She grew to love our family’s passion, for not only food, but life. The
house was always alive with banter and celebration, it was a glorious spectacle, and she, obviously
came back again and again.
-The Irish Senator