Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In the Midwest, Food Is Love

My inborn Midwesternness is asserting itself. I read a great piece in Notre Dame magazine by a British student at Notre Dame and his adventures in Midwesternness. He says that while in the Midwest, "I have lost track of the number of people who have barely had a chance to assimilate the fact that my name is significantly less exotic than it first sounded before they have invited me into their homes for a meal. ... I have also now visited five of the Midwestern states and met countless people resolutely determined to confirm the stereotype of the friendly Midwesterner."

I laughed until I cried because, um, yeah. As soon as I meet a foreigner, a benighted coastal native, or anyone new to town, I'm determined to take them home and feed them. I don't care that I've known them for five minutes. I don't care that I only learned to cook last year. This started when I was about 18, this determination to feed people I had just met, particularly if they were not lucky enough to be from the Midwest, and now that I'm 27 it's in full blossom and expresses itself in urges to make complicated casseroles and serve fruit salad in bowls made of canteloupe for people I've known all of six hours. Because if they're not from the Midwest, what have they been eating all these years????

I don't know if it's something in the air or the water or what; my mother is a native of Virginia, yet after 30ish years in the Midwest, exhibits these same tendencies (and oh my God can my mother cook; I swear my college roommates, and those of my siblings, would have held death cage competitions to win the right to eat my mother's Thanksgiving turkey). My husband, having only had two years now to catch the friendly-midwesterner bug, is a little bemused by my insistence on feeding every stray human (and cat) that I meet, but I've noticed he's started inviting newcomers to town to our house for food. Because if they're not from the Midwest, how have they not starved to death yet??? And how have they lived this long without knowing the glory that is Midwestern beer-battered bratwurst???

And let me take this moment, you stuck-up New Yorkers and self-centered Los Angelinos who are thinking right now that your food is soooooooo much better than mine by virtue of your proximity to salt water, to point out that the nation's best restaurant is NOT on the coasts but is in Chicago: Charlie Trotter's has been repeatedly named not just the nation's best restaurant (and chef), but was named the world's best restaurant in 1998 by Wine Spectator. But more to the point, you luckless denizens of the coasts, Midwestern home cooking will knock the socks off you, and you only really have to hang around O'Hare for 10 minutes before someone will start offering to feed you. We worry about you coastal types; you don't seem to eat very well, you suffer from inferior cultural institutions in your cities (I'm sorry you can't all be Chicago, but you can't), and are you drinking enough milk? I didn't think so. Don't worry, Wisconsin is sending some.

If you hurry and catch a plane now, you can be here in time for dinner; I'm whipping up some homemade shortbread and if you're really lucky, I might beer-batter some bratwurst for you.


pollypeoria said...

Eyebrows, It's your fault that I'm fat! What time is dinner? Shall I bring wine?

Phoibos said...

Once you're done with 'em, ship 'em on down to Texas so we can do a barbeque. I'll bake 3 kinds of bread and fire up the neighbor's grill, and we'll sit around playing Hold'em and drinking margaritas.

Dana (caryatid) said...


And all this time I thought it was just *my* family!!!

Garnet said...

Heh. I don't usually cook for people, as I don't usually cook. I do sometimes get the irrational urge to make couscous mixes for people. And I used to feed people poptarts when I had beaucoup in my room. Silly Midwesternness - especially since no one can figure out if Kentucky is South or Midwest. Both have quite the traditions of feeding. I think mine come out the very most when someone is having stomach problems or has low blood sugar. Then it's "tea and cheese! You sure you don't want some?"

dana said...

I used to tell people that they know I love them if I cook for them. Many thought I was kidding, but no one realised how serious I was. :)

When someone new comes over for dinner for the first time, I usually make fondue. It's one of those "bonding" dinners that's just fun.

I might not know my friends' favorite colors, or what kind of music they like, but I always know food allergies and dislikes. :)

Anonymous said...

It's a great tradition. Too bad the food of the midwest is so bland and characterless, unlike the food of almost any other part of the contry.

pollypeoria said...

Anonymous clearly does not it eat or live here. I have lived on both coasts and in between. Mid-west has the best cuisine anywhere!

Eyebrows McGee said...

Anonymous must be a coastal person. All that salt water addles their taste buds. They're a little insecure, I've noticed.

ThtreLady said...

New Englanders like to feed people also. My Mom loves to cook - I suck - but I always always always have at least 3x the food needed when someone is coming over.

But I'll come and eat your food, if you'll come and eat mine