When breaking bread was an act of intimacy

Many of the memories my parents shared about their lives before I was born had to do with food.

My favorite is this one.

Uncle Hagop had a grocery store in Union City, N.J. during The Depression. The store was warmed by a wood-burning stove. On top of the hot stove was always a pot of gouvedge — Armenian lamb and vegetable stew — and a loaf of bread.

All winter long, everyone who came into the store went straight to the stove, broke off a piece of bread and used it to scoop up some gouvedge. My mother insisted this was the best gouvedge ever because it was flavored by all the hands that dipped into it.

I love this story not only because I love gouvedge, but because it’s something wonderful from a time that’s gone forever.

These days, we are horrified by the thought of human hands touching our food, no matter how well-scrubbed, unless they are sheathed in rubber. We insist that anyone who ladles soup must dress like a surgeon.

Uncle Hagop would be shut down by the health authorities. Maybe arrested.

We are right, of course because we know more about hygiene and food-borne illness. We’ve traded intimacy for peace of mind. I wonder if that’s what we’ve really gotten.

For thousands of years, the phrase “breaking bread” was taken literally. When I hear it now, I think of gouvedge.

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  1. David Blasco June 25, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Another great story. You ought to write a book collecting them.


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