Sandra Hanson , professor, sociology, and Life Cycle Institute fellow, was quoted in a Sept. 19 Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise article about families that eat meals together. See her comments in the story below.
By bringing good food to the table, Beaumont sisters help keep families together

From: Beaumont Enterprise Date: Sept. 19, 2007 Author: Jane McBride When the four daughters of one of the best-known cooks in the Italian-American neighborhood of Beaumont set up house as new brides, they could barely spell kitchen, let alone navigate their way around one.

Josephine Maceo, a precise woman who always found fault with anyone's cooking other than her own, never taught daughters Concetta, Luce, Dimples and Theresa to cook.

Anything they knew about cooking, they learned by watching what she was doing - from afar.

"She was very particular. She didn't want us in the kitchen," said Dimples Messina. "When I got married, I couldn't boil water."

With 19 children among them, it didn't take long for the sisters to learn to cook for their new families, but it was years before they could re-create many of the traditional Sicilian dishes their mother prepared.

The four women who provided sustenance for their families at the dining table sought divine sustenance at the Lord's Table, walking to mass with their mother each day.

On Sept. 29, Catholic Charities will honor Concetta Tortorice, Sylvia Ann "Luce" Parigi, Olivia Patricia "Dimples" Messina and Theresa Giglio - the "Four Cardinals" - for their "devotion to God, church, family and community" at the 2007 Harvest of Hope Gala.

Strengthening families

Each Saturday and Sunday, the sisters and their families would meet at their parents' home for lunch and dinner, a gathering that makes a family stronger, said sociologist Sandra Hanson, sociology professor at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a fellow at Life Cycle Institute, a social science research center.

Thanks to studies like the CASA study at Columbia University in 2005, nutrition now joins previous bellwethers of a family's mental and social health: standards, morality and ability to think about life problems, Hanson said.

That often shows up in immigrant families, who rate higher on the scales, despite their sometimes lower socio-economic standing.

"So many things in the social world give an advantage to those with higher socio-economic status. People with more money usually have more advantages, but when it comes to eating with families, foreign-born families are more likely to eat together," Hanson said from Washington, D.C.

Families seem to be getting the message that communal meals can enhance family life.

"About 58 percent of the families surveyed in 2005 eat together at home five times a week," Hanson said. "That was 47 percent in 1998. The message is out and families that have become chaotic and unguided realized on their own that this slippery slope has got to be fixed."

Coming full circle

In time, each of the Maceo girls developed a reputation for a specialty contributed to the communal meals. Concetta brought rice balls, Dimples provided a jelly roll, Theresa made potatoes au gratin and Luce baked seed cookies or made cannoli from scratch.

Their love of food even helped steer them toward careers; their father R.C. Maceo was one of the co-founders of Texas Coffee Co., and three grandsons, from the Tortorice, Parigi and Messina families, founded successful eateries and beverage companies.

The closeness their families shared, from dining to praying together, provided the foundation for their children's success, Frank Messina, son of Dimples, said.

"These women are supportive, honest, caring, and helpful. They'll be the first ones praying, bringing food and sending a card. And that extends to their friends. Their generosity transcends their family."

The sisters did a better job of teaching their daughters to cook, though the family trait of wearing the apron while dishing criticism still hangs on.

"Mother just didn't pass out compliments," Dimples said.

"Neither did they," Connie Prewitt, Luce's daughter, said, laughing.

"But they've been wonderful resources for us," Roseanne, Concetta's daughter, said. "We wouldn't think twice about calling any of the aunts. They're very generous women."

When asked who the best cook among them is, everyone bursts into laughter.

"Unanswerable," Roseanne said.

"If you ask each of us individually, we would all say our mother," daughter Jo Beth Jenkins said. But when it comes to family harmony, maybe, as Roseanne proffered: "Some things need to be left unanswered."