The Meaning of the Meal

Let me once again state the painfully obvious to you. Food is a critical element of life. Without nourishment, we would soon wither and die. That's right my friends, food is a life or death proposition. Of course those of you who really know me would...

Another reason for breaking bread revolves around the annual fire department dinner which is a tradition of long standing in many places. Our dinner here in Adelphia is held during the first part of March each year. At the dinner, we swear in our officers, celebrate the service of our members, and say thank you for the many years of service which our members have given. Last March my daughter and I received Top-10 Responder awards for our service during 2008. So it goes in my world. We say thank you with a meal.

As a matter of personal preference, I use food as a part of my business modus operandi. I learned this particular lesson from some really knowledgeable people. Through the years there were a number of organizations which ran major events with a largely volunteer staff. Hard work was rewarded with food and friendship. To a young lad growing up in the fire service, this seemed like an excellent way to rally people together around a common cause. Some of my best friends come from that era of nutritional interactions.

I have made it a long-standing practice to say thank you to people with whom I have worked by taking them out to a good restaurant and say thank you with a meal. It has been my experience that people like to hear the words thank and you used together as a comment on their service. However, I find that when those words are combined with a meal, they carry a bit more staying power. At least that is how I have seen that in my life. It is also my practice to send gifts to a number of folks with whom I do business on a regular basis during the Christmas season.

Let me now return to the days of yesteryear when I labored in the vineyards of the Newark Fire Department. The firehouse meal was a staple of our daily lives in the firehouses of the city. It was the time when all of us in the station came together to break bread and tell war stories. It was a time for people like Jerry Knight, Bernie Washington, Tom Grehl, and Jack Doll to strut their stuff. There were others of course, but these guys were the "gold standard" in my life.

I can still recall the meatloaf dinner that Bernie created for my last meal as a fireman at the old Engine Company #11 station on Central Avenue. The gang from Engine 11 and Truck 11 was there, as was my Battalion Chief and my Deputy Chief, as well as their aides. It was a real sweet time to be a fireman in the City of Newark.

As a matter of fact, I was able to develop a team-building program around my quarterly Sunday Brunch sessions at Engine Company #27 where Tom Grehl was the station commander. I would have Tom host the sessions in his station, since it was one of the largest in the city. The cost of the meal came from my pocket, but Tom and the gang at his station would prepare for the morning's festivities. I could then bring the entire battalion together for a training session, wrapped around a truly scrumptious Sunday brunch.

In this way, I could lay out my policies and procedures and everyone would be hearing the same things. A number of my associates thought I was foolish to lay out the money for these sessions. It was my contention that it was money well spent, because it allowed for the whole team to train together and then enjoy the rewards of their labors, viz. a great meal prepared by Chef Grehl.

Of course I have been reasonably assured that the firehouse meal still holds a central place in the firehouse of Newark. As a matter of fact, it was my privilege to be an invited guest back in 2007 for the dinner celebrating my brother's last night as the chief in Battalion Four, Tour 3. Let me assure you that the folks in charge of that meal shall carry a place in my heart. Frankly folks, it is tough to believe that I have been retired from the city for more than a decade.

There are many other examples from everyday life where meals serve an extremely useful function. When there is a death, we tend to come together around a dinner table. I cannot recall the number of repasts which I have attended during my time here on earth. And when there is illness, we come together and share our bounty with those who need the comfort of a well-cooked meal. My apologies to the ad agency which coined the phrase, "...Nothing says loving like something from the oven."

To this day, my volunteer fire company here in Adelphia wraps many of its functions around the concept of food. We dine after our monthly meetings. We share a bite to eat after our drills, and we recover from the hard work and danger of the fireground with food to fill our stomachs. We also get to shoot the bull and tell war stories during these times of friendship and camaraderie.