Given my «gypsy-like intellectual life», always speaking in different places and environments about a multitude of topics, ranging from spirituality to socio-environmental responsibility, and even the possibility of the end of our species, the organizers, out of deference, often invite me to a nice city restaurant. Logically, I observe proper Franciscan tradition, and praise the dishes with pleasing commentaries. But a sour taste always remains, that prevents eating from being a celebration. I remember that the majority of my friends cannot enjoy these meals, especially the millions of millions of hungry people of the world. It seems to me that I am taking the food from their mouths. How can one celebrate the generosity of friends and of Mother Earth, if, in the words of Gandhi, «hunger is an insult and the most murderous form of violence that exists?»
In this context, the consolation of taverns comes to mind. I like to go to the taverns because I can eat there without feeling bad. There are taverns, cantinas, or tascas, all over the world, including the poor communities where I worked for many years. There a true democracy prevails: the tavern (where people with less buying power go) welcomes everybody. A college professor can be there drinking his brandy alongside a construction worker, a stage actor at the same table with a scoundrel, and even with the village drunk, who is downing a cold one. One only has to come in, take a seat, and call loudly, «pass me a very cold beer.»
The Brazilian tasca is more than meets the eye, with its brightly colored tile, the patron Saint on the wall, often a Saint Anthony with Baby Jesus in his arms, the symbol of the favorite soccer team, and colorful advertisements for the drinks. The tavern is a spirited place, where friends and neighbors encounter each other, where conversations last until late into the night; a place to discuss the last soccer game, to comment on a favorite TV series, criticize politicians, and hurl well deserved insults against the corrupt ones. Soon, everybody becomes friends with everybody else, within an incipient spirit of community. Here no one is rich or poor. They are, simply, people who talk like people, using the popular language. There is much humor, joking, and bragging. Often, as in the State of Minas, there is spontaneous singing, that someone accompanies with the guitar.
The general condition of the bar or tables does not matter to anyone. What is important is that the glass is very clean and free of grease; if not, it damages the creamy foam of the beer that must be three fingers deep. No one gets upset over the condition of the floors, or the restrooms.
The names are varied, depending on the region of the country. It can be The Tavern of The Old Lady, Sacha’s Tavern, Don Gomes’ Tasca, The Tavern of the Giba, The Tasca of the Joia, The Blue Turkey, The Brotherhod of the Scented Goat, The Full House, or many others. Belo Horizonte is the Brazilian city with the most taverns, and every year it celebrates a contest for the tavern with the best food. The dishes are also varied, generally prepared from domestic or regional recipes: sun dried meat from the Northeast, pork and el tutú (bean paste with tapioca flour and fried bananas) from Minas. The names are witty: mexidoido chapado (mixed grilled meats), porconóbis de sabugosa (which owes its name to the pig, and the leaves of a plant called ora pro nobis), Adam’s Rib (small pig ribs with tapioca), torrezno de barriga… There is a dish that I like very much offered in Belo Horizonte’s Central Market, which won one of the contests: Liver filet stewed with onions and jilo (jiló: a very popular small sour fruit). If it were up to me, this dish would be in the menu of the banquet the heavenly Father will offer to the blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thinking of it, the taverns, or tascas, perform a community function: they offer to all who frequent them, especially to all who go there often, the feeling of belonging to the city or the neighborhood. There being no other place for entertainment and leisure, the tavern allows people to meet, forget their social status and live an equality generally denied to them in their everyday lives.
To me, la tasca is a metaphor for the fellowship dreamed by Jesus, a place where everybody can sit at the table, celebrate fraternal coexistence, and make eating a communion. And in my case, la tasca is a place where I can eat without feeling guilty.