Food Tradition

“Every New Years day, my dad always makes sure that everyone in the family and all of our family friends have lentils at some point in the day. He says that it will bring wealth and good luck in the year to come.”


Joey Orton was born on July 12 1989. His father is an entrepreneur and his mother works as his right-hand woman. He is Jewish, but he only practices on major holidays. He is currently a student at the University of Southern California.

Joey has been participating in this traditional New Years dinner ever since he was big enough to eat lentils. He feels guilty if he ever misses a year and does not get to eat the lentils. The lentils are served in the form of lentil soup. Either his father or mother makes the dish. He is uncertain about how long it takes to make or if any technique is needed to make the soup. Joey’s family follows this tradition because they believe the round lentils represent coins. Therefore, eating the lentils is like gaining wealth for the next year.

New Years is a time when people celebrate the coming year. There are many different traditions people partake in during this period that deal with obtaining money for the year to come. Italians, in particularly, are known for beginning the new year, il capodanno, with  La Festa di San Silvestro, celebrated on December 31. As with most Italian festivals, food plays a key role. The main attraction of the dinner is lentils, as it represents money and good fortune for the coming year. Traditionally in Italy the meal is served with a cotechino, a large spiced sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s trotter that symbolizes the richness of life in the coming year.  It is interesting Joey’s family just eats a bowl of soup and no pork. It may be that his family is more integrated into the American way of life. Eating a bowl of green lentils appears to parallel the American attitudes about the accumulation of wealth, rather than in Italy where the having an additional food to share the wealth with. The combinations of the food indicate richness in more than just wealth, but rather in life. This demonstrates the effects of living in a forward-thinking, capitalistic country.

Moreover, I agree with Joey that the lentils represent coins. Plus, they are green. In the American South, black eye peas are the counterpart of the lentils and pig is only eaten if the previous year had been unlucky. It is remarkable how two different cultures have the same notions about specific foods.