(A guest post reprinted from “Moved to Madison”, a blog by Matt DePaolis (John’s son)
Born into a second generation Italian-American family (and with a grandfather from the “Old Country”), the importance of family was always stressed in my house. My life is full of big family gatherings, with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents (and seemingly anyone who happened to be in the neighborhood) coming together to share a meal. The tradition was a priority and no matter what was happening my family always ate together; on weeknights with my immediate family; on weekends with multiple generations at an extended family dinner.
This is what I knew and, accordingly, it always amazed me when dinner at a friend’s house seemed to be more about the food than the meal. Needless to say, I never thought how this would affect me when I left home for college.
Moving to Madison, I took comfort in knowing I had family near campus and expected I would join them for dinner periodically, in search of home cooking (or clean underwear). What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the loss I felt without a daily family meal. I really missed not joining others at the table-even my sisters-to discuss, argue or simply pass the time. Luckily, after my first week on campus, I was pleasantly surprised to have the void filled. Having bonded with other first year students, we have taken to eating with one another “family style” on a daily basis. We’ve made it a priority to eat together, making sure schedules don’t conflict with our time together.
It’s amazing how my need for “family” led me to seek a surrogate. The experience reinforces my belief that meals are much more than calories and can sustain people in other important ways. It also echoes my grandfather’s teaching that food is much more than something to eat and it’s the experience of sharing a meal that is important. Moving away from my family has shown me how much I enjoy the experience of eating and how new friendships can be forged through the simple act of sharing a meal.