Just in a Bitchin’ Mood - Whatever happened to my neighborhood Italian Restaurant?

My earliest memories of food aside from my mother’s cooking, was going out for pizza on a Sunday afternoon. About once a month the three families would get together for pizza at a local restaurant. It was great.

Then unexpectedly, “Golden Arches” began dotting the landscape. Soon after other copycat establishments followed. Unlike many of my closest friends and relatives, I hated them. I disliked walking up to a window to order my food and seconds later being handed a whole meal neatly packaged in a paper bag. Something about it was just wrong. It didn’t take long until arguments over where we should eat, sent us off on our separate ways. I believed it was one factor that contributed to the demise of the nuclear family. Anyway that’s how I felt about it.

I missed going to those restaurants. I enjoyed sitting in the creaky old wooden chairs, the patina glowing from years of handling. The scuffs and scratches only added to its’ character. The tables were fitted with red-checkered tablecloths. They boldly stated the establishment’s cultural heritage. Some were even adorned with old Chianti bottles covered with the drippings of melting wax from the single candle that illuminated the area surrounding it. The juke boxes frequently broadcast Italian tunes or of course Sinatra and Dean Martin. One way to visualize it is by picturing the scene from the Godfather movie where Michael Corleone sets up a meeting with the police commissioner and one of the underbosses to make a lethal point, all the romantic elements without the drama.

Little things like ordering a drink from the waiter made it special. I felt like a grown up when he asked me directly what I wanted. After taking the order for the entire table, he would disappear behind a pair of black curtains in the back of the room. Afterward, he would emerge with a platter with all the drinks on it. He held the tray up high with one hand while the edge of the platter hovered over his shoulder; a balancing act that always caught my attention; from the time he re-appeared to the instance the platter safely landed on the stand close by ready to support it. I smiled; my eyes focused and glued to the glass as he gradually lowered it in placed on the cardboard beer coaster in front of me. I liked watching the coaster swell as it captured the droplets of water that had condensed on the side of the glass. It was fun to watch as they randomly made their way down.

I was fascinated by the happenings behind those curtains. They concealed the room where the magic happened. I could hear the clanging of pots and pans. People were constantly talking or arguing. Every once in a while you could sneak a peak into the kitchen. If you waited as the waiters made their way back and forth through them you could see glimpses of the people who worked in the back of the house. I imagined it to be like it was for Alice as she peered through the looking glass.

The smell of stewing tomatoes, simmering garlic, melting cheese, and freshly baked bread infiltrated and overwhelmed the space around me. It heightened my anticipation. Soon my favorite food in the world would make its way to my plate. It was the easiest best way to become familiar with the definition of indulgence.

McDonald’s was just another ripple that characterized the poets’ words stated simply that, “The Times They Are A-Changin”. Vietnam was always in the forefront of the nightly news. The cold war was a real thing. We practiced balling up like armadillos; lining both sides of the halls, knowing that it was irrelevant. Our skin was not designed to ward off the effects of radiation. Civil rights also dominated the headlines as it still does today. A president and his brother were assassinated. A visionary killed because of his plea for justice, freedom, and equality. None of it really made any sense, I was too young to fully understand it all back then. However, I do know that I had been forever touched and fashioned by the forces the times had imposed on me.

Also during that time, we became as society of consumers. Capitalism was the new political and financial platform of the modern age that spawned it. Slowly but surely, the dollar became the object of worship. The ideals of love, community, sharing, and tuning out professed by the Cultural Revolution boarded a bus and headed to the outskirts of the cities. Power and individual possessions prevailed. The past was the past; history was now; and the future was the only thing to look forward to in hope that a better world would prevail.

The focus was far-reaching. Space became the new frontier. Television introduced the commercial. TV dinners and Tang became the new trends that distorted our ideas about what food was. Supermarkets began replacing corner markets. Pushing their boxed and processed foods. Convenience and availability was enticing. Conglomerates swallowed-up local farms. In the process, we lost another connection to nature and our interaction with it; further distancing ourselves and relying more and more on artificial ways to increase productivity and volume to meet increasing demands and profitability goals that were being ordained by the new world order. Time was money, and we needed all the time we had, to make all the money we could muster up, to get us to what we were told we needed to be; pawns in the new game of life.

We are now realizing that we had our heads in the sand while chasing that dream. The machine grew stronger and consumed everything in its path. Nothing could stop it. They found ways to make profits grow while lessening their losses. Food became an industry; and like all the others industries, it venerated the almighty dollar. Ethics and morality played no part. Whatever it took to make it profitable and strengthen its political stance was all it was concerned with. Drugs, antibiotics, pesticides were introduce to produce more with less without any consideration to the effects it might have on the population it fueled.

Fortunately, we live in a country that monitors itself. Mostly by individuals that ask the questions we feel powerless to ask. And why should we have to ask them? We live in the best country humanity has to offer. Our government looks out for and protects its citizens. It would never allow businesses to pollute the air we breathe, the land that sustains us, and the water we couldn’t live without. Would it? “In God We Trust” is etched on the back of every dollar bill! As a country we aspire to a higher being who grants us unalienable rights. But was this statement placed on the bill to remind us of a higher power who watches over us and helps forge our future, or as a declaration of the bills true significance?

Since corporations have been granted the right to be treated the same as individuals, they became immunized to inherent responsibilities and accountability. Anything that might hinder its growth and existence cannot be used against it. But a corporation is not a human being. It is a concept, a mechanism that was created by man. It needs man to feed and maintain it. It cannot thrive on its own. Therefore, it cannot be confronted and punished for its sins, but those that run it should be.

So where do we stand as consumers. Fortunately there are those that have the fortitude to be themselves and forge their own path. Once thought of as bizarre, crazy, or just being far out there, vegetarians, vegans, tree hugging hippies, and organic touting individuals are becoming more and more mainstream. We have become more educated about who controls our food supplies, where our food comes from, and how its being produced and maintained. We are coming into an enlightened age; and are beginning to accept the fact that we are a part of nature and its processes. It affects us and we affect it. Taking responsibility for our actions is a beginning. But we need to force corporations to do the same.

Trends like farmer’s markets, food to table restaurants, foraging for local wild foods, and turning to new food sources, such as insects, are gaining more popularity because we understand that we are part of a closed and limited system. The more we flourish the more we rely on nature to sustain us and reduce their numbers exponentially every year. Living longer also factors into this. Eating foods that increase and overload our medical needs also increase this burden that is self-perpetuated. What can we do to reverse this process?

Well we may not be ranchers or farmers, but we can all plant a few veggies in a small garden to harvest. We can turn to alternative food sources. We can buy and request access to locally grown foods. We can demand to be informed about what the food industry is looking to do down the road; especially before they introduce it into the system.

GMO is a relatively new acronym surfacing in the media. But how long have they been working on GMOs? What are they modifying and why? How does it affect the integrity of the source being modified?

Just this week I heard on the news that Bill Gates has an issue with Artificial Intelligence. He feels that it needs to be limited. I think we should also consider how much we allow technology to dictate what could or should be done to alter our food sources. We still have no idea what past practices have contributed to the overall health and well-being of our nation. It is time we step back, review and reconsider the processes being used today and see if there are better, healthier ways to cultivate our food supply.

We have to start today and take some time to restructure and reconsider our actions. Even if better options may obstruct or impede what we’ve become used to. If not about now, it is about what is to come. The future of our children and their children and the legacy we leave behind.

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