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On Father’s Day, Food Memories Bring Back More Than Meals

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Ian McNulty
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Allie's Donuts in North Kingstown, R.I., was a favorite of Bill McNulty, and thus for his son Ian McNulty.

When people talk about food memories, I used to think it was all about the food.

But the more time I spend with these memories, the more of them I make, I think it’s really more about moments of time, who was with us and how the pleasure and the presence of food anchors that through inevitable change.

These food memories give us a taste of what was – whether we actively seek them out or just stumble on them again. Then along comes a holiday, and with it the annual flood of such recollections. The next one up is Father’s Day.

As food holidays go, Father’s Day gets pretty short shrift. Mother’s Day is practically synonymous with brunch. Father’s Day is more about neckties and maybe a steak.

To me though, Father’s Day will always bring up strongly fixed food memories. My dad was no foodie, far from it, he was not that fancy or finicky and he didn’t come up with any of the privilege to set picky standards.

But in his time, the man embodied a lust for life and a gusto that I first learned from him through food. It was his favorite donut shop, which of course became my favorite donut shop, because it was a local, family-owned shop, and thus was worth bypassing multiple chain brands to visit.

It was the way hosting dinner at home or going out for a meal was about the people around the table and the festive spell that dad could spin there.

It was about getting seconds, because when it was good it was worth it, and you didn’t know when you’d have it that good again.

In my family, my dad used food to mark the moment. That made memories. And these days, that means they’re right there within reach at the next meal, the next round, the next moment of quiet gratitude for what we carry with us.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.