I was born in Queens,NY 1964. My mother was a few days shy of her 16th birthday when she had me. We lived with my grandmother and my young father. They were forced to be married for appearances,and it lasted only 3 years. I would say we were ‘Blue Collar’ at the time. Grandma had a good job at American Bell(now AT&T). She managed her money well,was a fantastic cook. My early memories were that of complete bliss. I don’t remember being hungry. There was fresh milk in glass bottles,eggs and butter delivered daily to the door by ‘The Milk Man’. Cheap egg cremes and malted’s at the soda shop around the corner. My Grandmother would come home from work everyday,change out of her dress and heels, get into more comfortable clothes, slap on an apron, and prepare a simple meal for us all. Being so young, I was oblivious to how hard she worked to support her newly expanded family, and the length she would have to walk out of her way to the avenue, to find fresh vegetables, and good meat, which she would wheel home in her little cart, after working a desk job all day. We moved out of my grandmothers home when i was about 4 years old. My young mother didn’t know how to cook yet, so canned food and things like Swanson’s frozen meals or Chicken Pot Pies were popular in our home. The Mister Softy Ice Creme Truck was a favorite and going to the new White Castle Hamburger chain. It was the the late 60’s,and processed/fast food was a new, exciting concept. By 1970, my mom became a hippy, and eventually relocated us to upstate NY, where we lived in a wonderful old house near Saugerties/Catskill NY area. It was completely rural, just beautiful. She became a Farmer and opened up a health food store. Her cooking improved over the years, and she resourced her own vegetables from our garden and meat from local hunters. There were many moments that I remember us having no money, and we were on Food Stamps, but I never WAS hungry. I was not aware that we were poor. Remember, this was pre internet, and kids still played, nobody had handheld devices and fashion choices weren’t a big deal. No matter what, my mother always made sure we had something to eat, we had free lunch at school, and no one was turned away…no one. Different times.
When I was in my early 20’s, and ‘finding myself’ in a career choice, I think that was my wake up call on how hard it is to make enough money to eat well. Having grown up around single,resourceful women,I had survival tools already built in. I always cooked at home and stretched out my food. Dining out was a luxury at the time, and I would accept an invitation as a guest, only when the situation wouldn’t embarrass me to not be able to pull out my wallet.
By the time I was successful(1st as a makeup artist,and then as an actor)I was able to stock my home with the finest,healthy ingredients. I traveled globally, and was inspired by the many walks of life, and how they cooked and ate…with and without money. I honed my skills as a great home entertainer, cooked fantastic meals for friends. The good wine, and cheeses always present. I never forgot where I came from, and shared everything I had with my friends and family. Being hungry or even having to eat on any particular schedule was not something I really had to think about.
Then I had children, and stopped working full time, which meant less money as an actor, and going back to the basics.
Family Life is another wake up call. Many of us are all ‘gung-ho’ to procreate, without really taking into consideration of how tough it is to –
A) keep a work schedule when you have kids,without family around.
B) feed children healthy food and develop a feeding routine for the next 20 years,daily.
C) how hard it is to protect your kids from unhealthy food and GMO’s as they grow up in these times.
My husband,Gabriele changed the way I cooked food. The Tuscan Farm life simplicity in cooking was a revelation to me. It is lighter and they often reuse many of their ingredients to create other dishes the next day. Nothing is wasted. Old lettuce is turned into soup, stale bread is used for several incredible, Florentine signature dishes like Pappa al Pomodoro or Ribolita. Meats are grilled, and vegetables are prepared simply and dressed with EVO,salt and pepper. Our children have grown up eating incredibly healthy, have learned how to chop with a sharp knife by the age of 3 1/2. There is a sit down meal everyday at dinner time and we talk. We have been fortunate enough to plan their daily lunch bags, and pack them with healthy food and snacks for school. They go Public School and refuse to eat school lunch. They don’t think it looks appetizing but have sampled it. Even on pizza or spaghetti day, being Italian girls with us as parents, they still refuse. They don’t know what hunger is, or how fortunate they are.
That brings me to LIVING BELOW THE LINE. I thought it important to try to raise awareness to the Hunger Crisis in this country. I want to share with my children what it is like to live on $1.50 per person a day. That means no snacks, practically no green vegetables..nothing fresh.Many of their friends at school have little at lunch and our kids always bring extra to feed them. Now for the next week that will all change for us. I looked at the labels/price tags on my favorite things in my refrigerator today. My blood red orange juice from Sicily was $5.25 for a quart. My Cheese-Pamigiano $10.99, for 1lb.SottoCenere -$9.66, for 1/2 lb.Pomegranate Seeds-$10.26. This list could go on forever. My refrigerators contents are wonderful…but not for this week. This week we will challenge ourselves how to make ends meet on $30 dollars for the family for 5 days. It won’t be easy, but I’m hoping to try to create some good recipes with little, and more importantly, for myself, my husband and children to understand what others deal with on a daily basis .I want to raise awareness on the Hunger issue in America. I am about to go to Washington DC with a documentary called A PLACE AT THE TABLE. I most recently hosted a film about NY desert areas called THE APPLE PUSHERS. I just lent my story and image for the new SNAP program. Its time for change in this country. Everyone deserves to eat well.