I guess it was still a thing in the 50s. People got married young, really young, and they had lots of kids. Farm life was boring. Dad thought he was Elvis. Mom can be rather driven at times. They traded farming for ranching and that’s how I came to inhabit space number 10 of 13 kids. I like what it taught me, like my love for tools and well made things. We didn’t have a lot. What we did have, we chose for how it was made, how long it could last and how useful it would be. I guess it rubbed off on how we decide what Graf Lantz sends out to the world.
From early on I noticed everything. Big families have big dynamics to navigate . Beautiful memories awash in golden light go on forever in my head. We invented games and toys that made us the creatives we are. But there were other kinds of memories, like popcorn steaks, that just kind of lingered out there for a long time, unsettled and suspicious, not knowing what to become.
With only 10 kids at the time my parents had moved us from the back hills of the Ozarks in southern Missouri across the country to the big city in hopes of getting treatment for my oldest brother’s disability. They landed with nothing but determination. In the end, the family thrived, but the first years were very, very lean.
I like popcorn now, but for a long time I couldn’t stand the thought of it, let alone the smell. It meant fear. It meant a kind of shame and guilt. It meant a 5 year old boy instinctively knowing not to cry when mom and dad, not such great actors, walked in projecting an oddly strained excitement about tonight’s super extra special dinner treat extravaganza: popcorn steaks!!!!!
It was code for: There is no food in the house. Their search that day hadn’t managed to pull a meal together and bring it back to the nest. However, once my dad gave a rousing “HEY KIDS, MOM SAYS WE GET TO HAVE POPCORN STEAKS TONIGHT!!!!!!!” We all joined in.
A bag of popcorn, food coloring and little sticky melted sugar can go a long way when you get to play with your warm dinner and shape it into unicorns and air planes. Early on, I made a T-bone steak for my dad. I worked hard. In all that golden light it is perfectly formed. I can see a thick, well marbled slab with the bone and fatty parts rendered perfectly. I’d nailed it. He ate it with a fork and knife. I wondered how he could cry and smile all at the same time. He said the steak needed a little salt and tears have a little salt. I’ve wondered since whether he’d lifted that line from a movie, but who cares. I won first prize. The name stuck.
Unfortunately, that kinda thing can only happen so many times before the kids get to gossiping. Young minds create all sorts of monsters. We came to face those nights pretending bravery with complete dread inside. I’ve tried to imagine what it must have been like for my parents. I can’t. If you’ve never experienced the fear of daily hunger, you can’t either. It should be hard to imagine. But I can tell you first hand it’s a lot more than just feeling hungry. It creeps into every aspect of life and grinds away at the bonds that hold a family together.
My parents came with all the optimism and blind courage they could muster but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until they found the courage to reach out for help that things changed. Reaching out isn’t easy, but someone was there to respond, without judgement. They just saw the situation for what it was and filled the most basic of needs. That’s because they knew, just like Feeding America knows, the very simple act of removing food insecurity can enable a family to make their way back to independence and on to a life that has room to make all those golden memories.
Feeding America understands exactly what my “popcorn steak” story means. As an adult I had long since come to terms with these memories, but working with Feeding America showed me how to make them helpful, and valuable. That’s why we love working with them. They just get it. They see my story every single day of the year and they know what I know; food solves other problems, not just hunger. Food is like oil in the gears to get things moving again. Or like the perfect simple tool, right when you need it. It changes lives. It changed mine.
Thanks to the Graf Lantz customers, our Mask campaign with Feeding America is a huge success — we’ve donated 5M meals to date. But there are many people in need and reaching out. That’s why we are expanding our ways to Support Feeding America with our new campaign, A Place Around the Table.
I named it for the hope it represents. I was at my mom’s place in Utah recently. I told her I was going to write about the famous popcorn steaks. It got a good laugh. She made me promise to talk about the good times around “the table”. When the hard times passed, popcorn fell deeply off trend around the house. Rice crispy treats suffered the same fate by association. Huge family dinners became the fashion. At some point she had my dad make a giant circular table. It was 10 feet in diameter and seated 16 tightly. There was a 4 foot lazy-suzan carousel in the center. It never stopped revolving. We even had a food fight once. It took up a whole room and it was the center of everything in the house. She said, “I had him make it because I wanted all you kids to know you would always have a place around the table”. The name stuck.
A Place Around The Table is a commitment to extend our Feeding America partnership. We’ll be donating five meals for every tabletop item purchased. We thank you for the support that allows us to continue to provide meals for our communities. And, we thank you for giving Graf Lantz a place around your table.
– Daniel Lantz