Study Guide

Alligator Bayou Food

By Donna Jo Napoli

Food

Everyone digs in. We eat long, flat pasta—pappardelle. The same as most nights. They're the easiest shapes to cut.

Carlo does all the cooking. In a way he's the one who really makes us a family, 'cause that's what we become when we sit down at this table to eat. (5.20-21)

Mealtime is where Calogero gets to connect with the people he lives with, when they come together to relax and let loose a bit. What is mealtime like in your house?

The pasta is covered with fresh spinach and Italian olive oil that we order through New Orleans. So good. We finish and wipe the bottom of our bowls with bread. Then there's baby artichokes, fried whole. I eat and eat. (5.22)

The type of food, how it is served, and how people eat it, is very important—in this family, it is a ritual, something practically sacred to them.

"Figs, pomegranates, oranges. […] They didn't have good fruits or vegetables in this state before the Sicilians. Without us, all they'd eat is squirrel and possum and alligator." (6.110)

It is far nicer to have imported fruits when they are out of season, and the people that order and ship and generally provide them to a community are valuable—if completely underappreciated in this case—members of a community.

But Bedda jumps onto the porch and head butts Francesco in the shoulder. He grabs her by the hair at the front of her chest and feeds her a strawberry.

"What are you doing that for?" says Giuseppe in disgust. "Tomorrow is June third. Decoration Day. The whole town will be buying food for parties. These strawberries will sell at top price, every last one of them." (6.25-26)

Sometimes food can be a delicate subject too, because it can represent love and friendship—but also money and livelihood. Giuseppe doesn't feel that wasting a berry on a goat is worth the loss of money, but Francesco does because he loves Bedda.

Cirone is handing out the pizza. I want to kick him. I should be the one to make the offer—and get the credit. It was my idea to bring pizza. (9.61)

Everyone loves the people who bring food to a party… if it's good that is… and though the boys think the pizza is weird, they don't think it's bad. Score one for Cirone.

"And for your portion," says Charles, looking at me, "a 'gator supper. Tricia promised to make your portion special good." (9.202)

Going 'gator hunting isn't just to look tough, or for fun, but to get food. This is a far more dangerous hunt than, say, shooting a deer from far away, but just as practical in terms of what it provides.

"You ain't the only one who work Mr. Calo-whatever. Maybe surrounded by fruits and vegetables all day, you think food is everything. Geography and history and music and composition and declamation and 'rithmatic. I care about all that." (11.50)

Couldn't you argue that food is everything? After all, isn't it one of the main things we spend our hard-earned money on and essential to staying alive? If you couldn't tell, Shmoop loves to eat.

"You should see what Carlo's making to bring."

"Pasticcia Rustica," I say, remembering the ingredients on the table this morning.

"Those pies are so good, they'll be like a present." (11.60-62)

Homemade food is one of the best gifts you can give someone. Everyone appreciates the effort and time that goes into such an offering, and here it helps Calo's family befriend people who are wary of them.

Well, all right; I'm alone. Time to feast. I taste every meat—muskrat, swamp rabbit, chicken, loggerhead turtle. Is this the turtle that attacked Cirone's foot?

There's our 'gator. Everyone's saying it's tasty. The beast of that night is long gone. This is just meat. I take a nibble; it wakes my tongue. (13.46-47)

Tasting new types of food can be like a great adventure. And Calo knows some of the menu intimately, which must be both pretty cool and weird.

Ah, the next table holds desserts. One is bread pudding, full of pecans, and oh, sweet Mother of God, that's it for me. Bread pudding, ah, bread pudding is heaven. (13.50)

Calogero has reached enlightenment with this dish. Some things taste so good that people call them to die for. Shmoop—and Calo—are some of those people.

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