David Bruce: Food Anecdotes

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Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once led a tall man with long, stringy white hair, blue eyes, and an offensive odor to a place at a shul (synagogue) dinner, where the man devoured plate after plate of food. The man was a Christian from Texas who was obviously very hungry. Rabbi Shlomo had seen the man sitting on a bench in Central Park, and he had asked, “Do you need a meal?” The Christian said later, “I really don’t know what I would have done if your Rabbi hadn’t come by. I’ll tell you honestly, this is the first meal I’ve eaten in three days. When he walked right up to me and asked, ‘Brother, do you need a meal?,’ I said to myself, this here man is surely an angel from God.”

Food can be hard to come by early in a career, even when someone becomes a major success later. Working as a model in Chicago, Halle Berry shared a one-bedroom apartment with many roommates. Most of whatever money they had went to pay the rent, leaving little for food. The women made do by going to bars that served free appetizers such as barbequed chicken wings. And when Ms. Berry moved to New York City to become an actress, she spent some nights sleeping in a homeless shelter.

In 1936, George Savino played in the major leagues for the first time, and he hit a home run out of the park in his first at-bat for the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, the baseball crashed through a dining-room window onto a table on which a homemaker had just placed her family’s dinner. The dinner was scattered everywhere, creating a tremendous mess, and so the homemaker marched over to the baseball stadium to complain. After listening to her, the management liberally reimbursed her.

In 1963, in the back room of Trader Vic’s, a San Francisco restaurant, world champion eater Bozo Miller made big money by eating 27 two-pound chickens. For a while, his competitor kept up, but eventually the competitor stopped eating, remained sitting, and watched Mr. Miller eat his way to a $10,000 purse. To eat that much, Mr. Miller trained hard. For two weeks he stuffed himself to stretch his stomach into competitive shape—and he gained over 25 pounds.

Rab’s wife was contrary. When her husband requested beans, she prepared lentils. When he requested lentils, she prepared beans. Their son noticed what she was doing, so he began to lie to her. When Rab wanted beans, their son told Rab’s wife that Rab wanted lentils, and therefore she prepared beans. After a few days, their son told Rab why his wife had seemed to change, but Rab told him not to lie, lest he begin to lie habitually.

Movie stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon lived very close to each other as they grew up in Boston. Matt’s mother taught him how to cook—a fact that was not lost on other mothers. In fact, Ben’s mother tried to convince him to help out more around the house by telling him that Matt cooked twice a week for his family. Ben jokes, “I first knew him as a guy who was setting a really bad precedent in the neighborhood.”

When Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, was a mother with three young children, she grew irritated because it seemed that during every meal at least one child spilled a glass of milk. Therefore, at one meal, she announced, “Whoever spills the next glass of milk will leave the room!” Unfortunately, a little later, Ms. L’Engle spilled her glass of milk, so she had to leave the room.

According to legend, emperor Shen Nung discovered tea in China in the year 2737 B.C.E. when he stopped to take refreshment under a wild tea tree while he was traveling. As a health measure, he boiled water before drinking it, and some leaves from the tea tree fell into the water, making its color brown and its smell inviting. He enjoyed the drink, and soon it became popular throughout China.

Dennis Scott played basketball for Georgia Tech in 1990-91, a season during which he lost 30 pounds. During an away game at Duke University, the opposing fans thought that they would tempt him to go off his diet — when Mr. Scott, now slim, was introduced, the Duke fans threw doughnuts onto the court. (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski apologized for the behavior of the home-team fans.)

Thelma Todd was an attractive platinum-blonde comedian who appeared in 1930s movies with ZaSu Pitts and the Marx Brothers. Her boss, Hal Roach, wanted her to stay attractive, so her contract included a clause stating that she had to keep her weight to within five pounds of what it was when she signed her contract — otherwise, she would be fired. This was known as the “potato clause.”

Shortly after getting married to Hershell (Nick) Nixon, mystery writer Joan Lowery accompanied him on a trip to western Montana. (He worked as a geologist for Shell.) One day, they ate at a restaurant that seemed to serve nothing but steak and potatoes. Ms. Nixon asked the waitress if the restaurant served salads, and the waitress said, “Sure”—then brought her potato salad.

Following World War II, Maria Tallchief and George Balanchine stayed briefly in the apartment of Margot Fonteyn while she was away. Her small kitchen was well stocked with cans of food—very well stocked, in fact. Ms. Tallchief guessed that since food had been rationed in Great Britain during the war and after, people who worried about Ms. Fonteyn’s health had sent the food to her.

“I do wish George Bush would start paying attention to issues that are important for the country. Gay marriage, for instance. I don’t understand why the religious right fears homosexuality. They say it’s an abomination. The Bible says that shellfish are also an abomination. They who oppose sodomy must also oppose scallops.” — Jon Stewart

Benjamin Franklin tried to be a vegetarian, but after seeing several codfish cut open and noting that they had smaller fish inside them, he thought, “If you eat one another, I don’t see why we mayn’t eat you.” He then sat down and enjoyed a fish dinner.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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