David Bruce: Food Anecdotes

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When Emma Calvé was studying singing as a young student in Paris, she was very thin — so thin that she shocked the burly butcher whose market was next door. The butcher figured that she needed to eat more meat to gain weight, but he realized that young Emma and her mother had little money. Because he recognized Emma’s great talent as a singer, he told her mother, “To prove to you how much confidence I have in your daughter’s future, I’ll open an account for you at this shop. You can pay me when she makes her début.” Emma imagined that later, after she had become a famous singer, the butcher listened to her in the audience and told the people sitting near him, “Do you see that wonderful singer? It is entirely due to me that she is in such fine form!”

The first time Gary Paulsen, author of Hatchet, ran the 1,000-plus-mile sled dog race in Alaska known as the Iditarod, he ran into a problem. One of his dogs refused to eat the food he had available to feed them. Instead, the dog would eat only the food that he had available to feed himself. Dogs are important in the Iditarod, and sled dogs have to eat to get the energy necessary to pull the sled, so Mr. Paulsen fed the dog his own food, leaving only butter for himself to eat. At a race checkpoint, moose chili was available, and Mr. Paulsen gorged himself, eating 19 bowls before he could bring himself to stop.

Alex Haley knew that he wanted to be a writer, and he was willing to live in poverty in order to have time to write. While Mr. Haley was living in New York City, a friend offered to give him a job, but he turned it down because he wanted to be a writer. Mr. Haley then took stock of his food supplies, and he discovered that he had only two cans of sardines — and to replenish his food supply, he had only 18 cents. The next day, Mr. Haley sold one of his articles, and he framed the two cans of sardines and the 18 cents. Later, of course, he wrote Roots.

In London immediately following World War II, food was scarce. However, one day, Lord Snowy, the pet cat of children’s book illustrator Tony Ross’ Uncle Barry, came to the rescue. Lord Snowy played on the balcony for a while one day, then dragged a steak into the apartment. Uncle Barry took the steak from Lord Snowy, washed it, and in an exhaustive taste test discovered that it was delicious. Where did the steak come from? No idea. Unfortunately, although Uncle Barry continued to let Lord Snowy play on the balcony, the cat brought no more steaks home.

During a feud between Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, many opera fans took sides, and they became known as Tebaldiani and Callasiani, according to whom they supported. At least one fan took the feud much too seriously. In the summer of 1959, a woman friend of writer Victor Seroff dined at a restaurant near La Scala, and she discovered a nail in her spaghetti. She showed the nail to her waiter, who explained, “They must have taken you for Madame Callas.”

Children’s book author Gary Paulsen and his wife, Ruth, once bought a pig to raise for food. Knowing that they intended to butcher it, they didn’t want to get emotionally close to the pig, and so they didn’t name it, but just called it “Pig.” The plan didn’t work. Pig became one of the Paulsens’ many pets, and when Pig died in old age, weighing almost 500 pounds, he died the way a pig would wish to die — with his snout in a feeding trough.

Blues singer Bessie Smith fell in love with police officer Jackie Gee, and after he was shot in the line of duty, she was determined to take care of him. After he was discharged from the hospital, she bought pork chops, black-eyed peas, cornmeal, collard greens, and everything that goes with them. Mr. Gee ate more than his fill, and the next day he was back in the hospital — he had eaten so much that his stitches had burst.

One of the most unusual meals ever eaten by human beings was over 2 million old. Arnold Haverlee was an explorer, a scientist, and an amateur chef. He was also a member of the Explorer’s Club and planned its annual banquet. Once, he heard about a mammoth that had been frozen under the Juneau ice cap for over 2 million years, so he arranged to have it delivered to New York, where he cut steaks out of it.

In 1939, soprano Marjorie Lawrence made a triumphant return to her native Australia. In an interview, she mentioned that while living abroad, she had missed eating a particular Australian dish — rabbit pie. In Melbourne, she was given an enormous rabbit pie that was so artistically wrapped up in cellophane and red ribbon that she was shocked when she opened it up and discovered what it was.

The Garry Moore Show, which was popular in the 1950s, used to occasionally feature exotic foods, which Mr. Moore and his guests would sample. On one show, Mr. Moore told guest Wally Cox, who was somewhat hesitate to sample the delicacies, “Wally, if you don’t eat your French-fried grasshoppers, you won’t get any chocolate-covered ants.”

Comedian Red Skelton did anything for a laugh. At the Brown Derby restaurant, he once took off his necktie, cut it into little pieces, put it in his Caesar salad, and ate it.

Comedian Bill Hicks would like to use Patriot missile technology to shoot food to hungry people: “Fly over Ethiopia. There’s a guy who needs a banana. Zap him one.”

Gymnast Bart Conner had little trouble losing weight while competing in some rural parts of China — the parts that served fried baby sparrows with every dinner.

Comedian Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, once had the idea of making popsicles in the shape of famous actresses’ breasts.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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