Thank you to all of those who participated in this year's
Annual Antonio Meucci High School Essay Contest!
2022 Highschool Essay Contest Winners
1st Place Winner
1st Place Winner - Flora Chan
3rd Place Winner - Leah Katz
2nd Place Winner
"Food for Thought"
3rd Place Winner
il cibo è amore - meaning, ‘food is love’.
Cabinets are filled with colorful ingredients; star anise seeds, peppercorns, button mushrooms. On the stove is a boiling pot of beef, simmering in a Malaysian golden curry. Outside the kitchen, family members crowd around a platter of candies, nuts, and dried fruit, snacking happily together. Food has always been a necessity for humans and has turned into a universal language for many. Traditions, cultures, and bonds are written across recipes and strung along with every noodle and rice grain. Preservation through sustenance helps tell stories of the past and uncover the secrets that are in stomachs instead of stone tablets.
Food helps preserve history by keeping traditions and memories associated with food. Laura Carlson, an established food historian and the host of The Feast podcast, explains, "Food preserves cultural history in many ways: both in terms of the small-scale or personal (for example, cultural history passed down by individuals or a family) and the large-scale or community (many people sharing food traditions as part of the same culture or society)." (Carlson, personal communication, March 28, 2022). Food has a place in every culture, and that is what implants a tradition into the people for generations to come. The simple act of cooking an old family recipe or eating to celebrate a holiday stays as someone’s custom forever. Traditions won’t age if the food associated with them is still being cooked; thus, food maintains the heritage of humans. Even sharing a pizza with friends can trigger a sense of nostalgia that reigns supreme over time.
In Italy, cooking techniques and ancient food items are still being eaten to this day. Fresh pasta and olive oil slathered on bread are cemented in Italian history with battles, kingdoms, and great warriors. Today, with just a simple camera click, food from all backgrounds can be shared within seconds, illustrating how people's love of food hasn’t changed since ancient times. With shared recipes and delicious gatherings, food proves to be the strongest ingredient in preserving the history of civilization.
Suantiankula, Gong-gong used to say. Life is like a pair of chopsticks, bringing sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter flavors. Flavor is life, and food preserves history: it brings people together and bonds them when they are apart.
Every Sunday afternoon, I’d walk into Gong-gong’s house, welcomed by the smell of fresh ginger and cooked pork. I’d peep into the kitchen to find him making his signature dumplings. Gong-gong would wield his butcher knife like a warrior with his sword, moving swiftly and neatly, mincing his way through the pork filling. He was a master of his craft, and I was his apprentice.
One Sunday, I didn’t go to Gong-gong’s house; instead, I went to the hospital. I visited my unstoppable warrior, who had finally been bested by his greatest adversary: lung cancer. He’d fought his battle for three long years, but alas, the invisible foe had won.
After Gong-gong passed away, my heart ached with grief. But I never stopped exploring the different flavors my chopsticks could hold. I tried new foods and hiked the tallest mountains. I discovered the profound experience of trying new things. The muddy terrains and surprisingly spicy dishes stood no chance against the curiosity of my chopsticks, seeking to enjoy all the flavors of life.
Throughout my quest, I found more than just passion in the people I met. The strength of artists and immigrants reminded me that I was strong enough to conquer the kitchen. As I recreated Gong-gong’s signature dumplings, memories of our time together flooded back to me. My hands moved instinctually, lacing themselves around the butcher knife that used to be too heavy to hold and mincing the pork in even waves.
That day, I made imperfect packages of goodness and loved the taste of dumplings more than ever. The smell of fresh ginger and cooked pork hugged my healing heart and recaptured the essence of the warrior Gong-gong was. He told his story, and now it’s time for me to pass it on.
Life is like a pair of chopsticks, and I can’t wait to find new flavors to try.
Italian culture is very rich, diverse and overall wonderful. Dating back to ancient Rome, their cuisine and customs were developed over a long period of time, and different places in Italy can have unique dishes as opposed to how westerners view Italian food. I myself am guilty of this generalization: Italian food is just pasta and pizza, right? Right?
Wrong. Both of those dishes are commonly found in central Italy, but their culture is so much more than a slice of pizza that costs two-fifty. Food is one of the defining factors in Italy and cooking is considered an art, with freshness of ingredients and simplicity highly valued. Looking back at the Roman Empire, many of their conquests and cultural diffusion in general still has quite an impact on modern day food - spices from the Middle East, dried pasta courtesy of the Arabs, grains from Northern Africa, and so much more. The fall of the Roman empire led to tribes introducing butter and beer to northern Italy. Nowadays, - places such as Val D'Aosta and Lombardy use butter rather than olive oil in their every-day cooking. Recipes are passed down from generations within families, often sharing certain characteristics as they evolve over time. Traditional recipes in southern Italy all have similar ingredients like oregano, basil, and a lot of citrus fruits which are trademarks of south-Italian cuisine and defining factors of their history.
Food is very important to my family and culture, too. My family is Jewish, and I truly believe that the one thing all of my ancestors and I have in common is our love for a bowl of matzo ball soup, a staple in every Jewish kitchen during holidays. Everyone’s family has their own slightly unique variation of it (my grandmother puts scallions in hers). Food is a universal language. No matter your heritage, people around the globe can remember warm memories of holiday gatherings with family through food. Learning about Italian culture has brought me a great appreciation for the development of culture and the uniqueness of their cuisine.