Food Matters: Game Night — One Nation, United by Food
WE BROKE ANY TENSION in the room by bonding over the food: Broiled mushrooms stuffed with sundried tomatoes; cream cheese-loaded jalapeño boats wrapped in crispy, salty bacon; Buffalo chicken dip with browned edges of caramelized cheese; and seven-layer Mexican dip with sautéed ground turkey beneath a refreshing blanket of shredded iceberg lettuce.
And chips — endless tortilla chips from a neutral-colored bowl — to scoop it all up. Even if you didn’t care about which team won the big game, at least there was a lot of food to consume between commercials.
Despite our differences as Super Bowl LI spectators — as a native Patriot, I couldn’t help but suspect that most of the Falcons “fans” in the room were driven by disdain, but that’s the plight of one of the NFL’s most polarizing teams in recent history — we were united by snacks. And, possibly, by our shared dismay for the state of affairs in our nation’s capital. This reminder came early on, with that bizarre, hypnotic, Avocados from Mexico commercial during the first quarter.
“Everyone loves guacamole…avocado toast…come and get it, hipsters!” cooed comedian Jon Lovitz, as a cutout of his face swirled into a trippy cartoon background. It might have made more sense if we were able to rewatch it immediately, but it got us giggling like schoolgirls anyway.
Silly commercial confusion evaporated soon enough, setting the stage for more serious talk: If President Trump succeeds in building a wall along the Mexico border, what might happen to the price of onions? Bloomberg reports indicate that his proposed 20 percent tax on food imported from Mexico (a $21 billion industry) will send the price of staple produce — tomatoes, chile peppers, onions, and avocados, among others — to unaffordable extremes. Surely the restaurant industry would take a hit: 70 percent of vegetables imported to the US hails from Mexico. Is American party food doomed for the next four years? New England and Atlanta fans shared a shudder about that.
Just as Native American tribes constructed a hearth at the center of every teepee, the coffee table in the middle of the living room was where we congregated. Facing the TV, it held the food that soaked up the booze; it steadied our drinks that washed down that food, too. Gathered ‘round, we shared chips and dips during America’s greatest sporting holiday, a celebration that unites our country regardless of vastly different political affiliations.
Ever since our ancestors found fire, cooking has drawn families in shared pursuit of sustenance. Breaking bread together has long been symbolic of peaceful times. Eating is what unites a clan, both in happiness and conflict. No talking politics at the dinner table!
Besides, what pairs better than food and popular entertainment to buffer a heated sports showdown? Along with our edible array, Lady Gaga’s dramatic leap into the Houston stadium to kickoff her solo halftime show squashed any squabbles that may have been simmering. All eyes were on Gaga’s acrobatic, breathless performance, featuring just one futuristic costume change but sealed with a badass mic drop; later they were on our host, as he emerged from the kitchen with bowls of long-anticipated, slow-simmered beef stew. (As expected, other commercials by food brands explored universal themes: Skittles paired young romance with comic relief; Anheuser-Busch dropped a not-so-subtle reminder of our shared immigrant heritage.)
The party confirmed what I learned in a recent communication-skills training workshop. One of the more interesting aspects of the class — comprised of about 20 students representing the spectrum of four main personality types, according to the DiSC profile assessment — was how we interacted on breaks. All of us, we discovered, are driven by different needs — toward perfection, a need for control, a desire to be loved, or a higher purpose. No matter our ingrained communication style or personal quirks, though, we all met in the middle over lunch. What to talk about when shared views seem absent? Try the taco bar, for starters.
After a frantic end to the fourth-quarter, the communal table of demolished Super Bowl snacks served as a satisfying reminder that our casual gathering of friends and colleagues was more about celebration than confrontation. Some lost money and at least one person fell asleep, but no fights erupted. And all of us returned home with full bellies.
That the Patriots could rally from a 25-point deficit to ultimately win the game in overtime — a Super Bowl first — represented sweet victory for half of us in the room. For the rest, well, at least they enjoyed plenty of guacamole.
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