Comfort food—even the words are warming and evocative, and most of us have familiar foodstuffs to which we turn when times get rough. However, when Paula Butturini’s husband, John Tagliabue, was shot by a sniper while covering events in Romania for the New York Times in 1989, Butturini knew that comfort food was only part of what would be necessary to help him recover. So the couple returned to Rome, where they had spent their happiest times together. In a new memoir, Keeping the Feast, she recounts the terrible struggle both had to regain some normalcy in their lives, and the role that food played in their recovery.
While it took two years for Tagliabue’s physical injuries to heal, it was the devastating clinical depression into which he fell afterward that nearly destroyed the couple. For years, Butturini’s husband was so depressed he often couldn’t speak. Once an outgoing, compassionate man, he became a shell of his former self, isolating himself from everyone but his wife and the psychiatrist he saw several times each week. Antidepressant drugs had no effect on his problem; for months on end, he only got worse, bedeviled by crippling anxiety attacks, uncontrollable crying and morbid introspection.
At her wit’s end, Butturini turned to the best cure she knew: “Just the magic of honest food—fresh and wholesome—simply prepared and eaten together three times a day, from ingredients that Italians have largely been eating for millennia. Italy still celebrates one of the most primordial rituals of the human community, the daily sharing of food and fellowship around a family table; what better place to take ourselves to heal?”
Butturini’s gratitude at having food as a lifeline to cling to is evident on every page of Keeping the Feast. It is a celebration of the human spirit, persevering in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and a paean to the restorative ability of food to bring comfort and peace to our souls as well as our bodies.
Rebecca Bain is a freelance writer and editor in Nashville.