Hunger is the best sauce!
By the time I knew him, my mother's father was living in one of those modest - but elegantly proportioned - Woodbrook gingerbread houses on French Street, the lower part between Ariapita and Wrightson Road. (My mother would tell us that they had moved there from Methuen Street which she was certain is Naipaul's Miguel Street.) What I remember about the house on French street is how open it was - as a child, I loved its nooks and corners and was intrigued by the understorey, the crawl space between the floor and the ground that seemed just right for little people.
This grandfather - a wizened but sprightly man who allowed small people to jump up and down on his bed, while he was in it! - would always have a treat for us. From out of nowhere he would produce a packet of iced gems, coin sized cookies with a minaret of hard coloured icing. They were made by an English company (Huntley and Palmers I believe) and imported to the colonies. This was the treat, but if there was a meal - his youngest boys (the adolescent uncles who would play with us) and a daughter with tiny tots were still living with him - everyone shared, no matter how miniscule the portion. Eat little and live long, he would say by way of encouragement for us to eat up, not to waste even tiny morsels in small bowls!
As kids, we would play interminably. Food was furthest from our thoughts. I don't think I ever registered a sensation of hungry until I was a gangly fast-growing teenager. And even if we had more food on our plates living on the farm, we were expected to finish what was there: Milo and cheese toast or eggs at breakfast; rice and meat and vegetables at lunch ,and noodle soup or bread and something for supper. For school, the midday and evening meals were inter-changed - sandwiches for lunch and the hot meal at supper. Saturdays were special: a feast of Trini street foods made at home, accras and bake; black pudding and hops; souse. Snacks were what we foraged from the trees: mangos ripe or green with pepper and salt; plums; five fingers; guavas with or without worms, tamarind with a sprinkling of pot soda! (People wonder how I can pick a fruit straight off the tree and eat it!)
My other grandfather would cook elaborate meals - a tradition that his son, my father, would carry on - for special occasions. We would wait one, two or more hours past the meal time. "You hungry?" he would ask frequently, gleefully, as he stirred his pot. He would build up the anticipation to our devouring the meal: hoisin-flavoured crispy skinned pork, black mushrooms swimming in a yard fowl stew flavoured with rum and ginger, jumbo shrimps in tomato, wood ears (tree fungus) stir-fried with vegetables, all served on steaming white rice in small bowls and eaten with chopsticks! It's easy to use chopsticks when you are hungry!
Generally, food was a prized commodity, not to be wasted, not to be indulged in excess. On those occasions when it seemed that the table was too small for the number of dishes, it was always because the whole extended family was gathered. Food in abundance as a tribute to the wealth of family, an extraordinary ritual. How then did we evolve, in one generation - and with smaller families - to expect food everywhere all the time. And the food! Chips, cookies, giant bottles of sweet drinks, fast food everywhere! Is there a way back to eating little and living long? Because surely as the sun comes up, we can eat ourselves to death.