First published in Franklin Journal
When we explore food and community, we each have our own vision and memories. They most likely impact how we presently look at food and whether our relationship with food is precarious or secure. Mostly, our food passion is associated with times of sharing food.
Friends and family gatherings at a table or picnics come immediately to mind. When I was ten, my father and I went out fishing one afternoon and incorporated a picnic into the day. I should say he was fishing and I was tagging along. As we traced his trolling pattern on the lake, I sat on the bottom of the boat and laid out our spread. Now, you have to know this “spread” involved crumbled, iced oatmeal cookies, which I moistened with a bit of water. I served this delicacy on my prized, plastic tea service complete with “silver” utensils and “crystal” blue goblets. Dad was a trooper and never uttered a complaint. Today, I shudder at the idea of soggy, crumbled, iced oatmeal cookies, but fondly remember that loving moment.
I also loved Grange suppers where I could indulge in foods not likely to be had at home. Spreads of Campbell’s soup-based casseroles and molded salads (that’s molded, not moldy, for those not acquainted with this ‘60’s tradition) would fill the tables and be accessorized with potato salads, deviled eggs, biscuits and rolls. Who didn’t look forward to a seemingly endless choice of desserts?
What I really loved and now build a career around is the meaning food brings to community. You can go back centuries and find tribes were collectively engaging in the preparation and sharing of food, ensuring survival on many levels. Recent generations in the United States have experienced a shift in the relationship of food to community. Today’s families don’t tend to gather around the table to share food and the day’s events. Even when dinner table communication only consisted of grunts, groans and exclamations of how good something tasted or a low-voiced query as to whether anyone wanted the last biscuit, we were at least together. Today we don’t even take time to commune over food at school and with the advent of “lunch-and-learns” we have achieved the further eroding of the sanctity of the lunch break.
When the World Trade Center attacks happened, some airliners were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. From there, passengers were bussed to several outlying communities. One such community was Lewisporte. This community took in stranded travelers – numbering more than their population – and shared shelter, clothing, medical services, and food. Bakeries stayed open to supply the shelters with bread. Restaurants were made available. Private homes opened their doors and provided meals. Many experiences were shared, but much focus was given to the food. Food is a universal communication tool which makes people feel cared for in a manner which surpasses other tools. Even if you who are in distress are not hungry, the message is received you are necessary.
There is hope for a resurgence of community food gatherings in the United States. Schools are cultivating gardens. Grange suppers are making a comeback. Farmer’s markets are gathering opportunities for food, music, and cooking or educating on topics such as composting or food processing. Fundraisers and faith based meetings highlighting food are nearly guaranteed successes. Food provides opportunity for story making, updating each other on the health of friends, and ensuring security; extending past the benefits of healthy choices for the environment and local economy.
I recently attended the Winthrop (Maine) Rotary’s “Keep Winthrop Warm – Chili, Chowder, and Soup Throwdown” coordinated to raise fuel assistance funds. The five dollar cost of admission affords opportunity for sampling; raffle participation; and door prize winnings. I appreciate that the low price allows for a wide number of people to come play. Each year I sit with someone I don’t know, so that I may make a new friend. This year I sat with a man and his wife who shared the recent loss of his mother. We swapped stories of caregiving and I am grateful they felt comfortable sharing. Food provided a deflection from feeling vulnerable. Of course, much of the usual conversation is about which entries will take home the title of “winner” in their appropriate category and like most food events, goodwill is abundant.
Though most people there don’t know me personally, as I leave they smile and wish me safe travels home.
We commonly think of food as nourishing our bodies. It also nourishes our need for relationships through inter-human connection. How does your community use food to strengthen relationships?