Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Food

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

Food

What kind of a deli would it be if it didn't serve food, right? This grocery has foodstuffs in spades. Well, actually it has them in open bins and hanging arrangements. The point is that the poem takes full advantage of all these good eats to craft a sense of the homes that have been left behind by these customers. Food imagery is all over this poem. As readers, it's time to eat that good stuff up.

  • Line 5: We're not in Wal-Mart anymore, Toto. The "dried codfish" and "green plantains" let us know that this deli is a different kind of space, one that's tied to the home culture and eating traditions of the clients who shop there.
  • Line 9: Mmm… memories. We bet even the canned ones taste good. This metaphor lets us know that food is more than just what these folks are taking home for dinner. What's on the deli shelves allows them to connect directly with their memories of home.
  • Lines 11-12: Sure, you might pay extra for the coffee, but hey—it's imported. It's the good stuff, the stuff directly from home—accept no substitutes. We get the feeling that these customers are willing to spend a little extra for a taste of their past.
  • Lines 25-26: Even the packages are precious in this deli. In most groceries, reading the labels out loud will get you a polite invitation to leave the store. Things are different here, though. People are so moved by the food that they treat the ingredients like poetry.
  • Line 28: This food is so meaningful to the customers that even the "stale candy" is something to savor. That's because it takes them back to their childhood. We can relate, which is why we keep a big bowl of candy corn on our desk.
  • Lines 30-32: At most shops, you get your ham in one package (sealed) and your cheese in another package (also sealed). Here, it's packaged together, wrapped in wax paper, and tied with a string. Is this some marketing gimmick, like putting peanut butter and jelly in the same jar?
    Nope—this is some old school packaging, which is why folks are willing to pay extra. Think about the care that goes into tying up your food with a string. It's like getting a delicious present, one that brings back memories of home.

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