In this excessively busy disconnected world that we live in it is easy to forget to eat, eat alone and on the run or eat a quick meal of ingredients prepped by someone else. This disregard for the source of our meals and the way in which they are prepared has created a huge gap in the social and familial networks of our society. Not to mention the lack of connection to the sources and quality of the foods we consume.
I have been aware of the importance of sharing food with others since my college days when we would start with three of us (roommates) making plans for a meal and before you knew it, we had invited thirty friends to stop by for a pot luck. It was a natural event that happened spontaneously through one random phone call that led to one person and then another being invited, who then in turn brought a friend.We always prepared homemade meals for these pot lucks and often the ingredients were picked fresh from our garden. It was natural to share food and the joys and sorrows of our lives during our time together.
This experience is one Ofer and I looked for when buying a house in a suburban neighborhood. We’ve found, though, that this was a tradition that didn’t easily follow in the environment of the busy Bay Area. Once children are born and with both parents working or divorced parents trading the kids back and forth, neighborhood kids attending different schools, there isn’t time left for a shared, home-cooked meal, much less gathering with families in the neighborhood. Food is the first activity that gets compromised. Everything else, track team, dance lessons, banking, birthday parties or whatever, comes before the time it takes to prepare and enjoy a quality meal.
Since we were unable to create a neighborhood experience, we kept a commitment to our immediate family to have meals together every day. That meant (since we work at home) that we have eaten meals at least once a day as a family and often two or three times a day for almost thirty years. What are the benefits we received from that practice? So many it’s amazing! Meal time is the natural time for family members to talk about their day, what’s happened or going to happen and how we feel about our lives. It creates an opportunity to speak about topics of concern or interest, in a relaxed way as we enjoy the nutritious, fresh food on the plate.
The preparation is equally important. We all cook and have welcomed our son, Yo’el, in the kitchen from a very young age. I can remember him being three years old and standing on a stepping stool at the counter, learning how to cut with a sharp knife. When he was nine and taking cooking classes through the recreation department, it was way below his skill level. They didn’t trust him to be able to use a sharp knife, event though he had been practicing for years, so it was a disappointment. Cooking is a life skill that is best developed in the young. What more valuable tool to have in life other than the ability to feed yourself well?
Food preparation is an intimate experience of creativity. It begins with the idea of eating a meal. What are we in the mood for? Can we find something that will satisfy all of us? We discuss possibilities, sometimes starting with one ingredient and expanding from there or perhaps a style of cooking (cold, hot, soup, pasta, fish, vegetables, Thai, Mexican, American, etc.). We might wander around the garden and see what is available during
the current season to supplement our meal. Then, we might pull out some recipes or create our own through our knowledge of flavors. We taste, smell, look, stir, chop, bake, broil and boil. Is there a drink you’d like to have with that? If so, what would be tasty alongside the meal we’re planning? Dessert? This can be a fun process that spans over many years, coming back to favorites and developing new recipes as we go along.
Friendship and community are bonds that get created naturally through an interest in preparing and sharing meals. We’ve recently met a young couple, Rain and Megan, and within a week of knowing each other have already developed a surprising bond among us through our enthusiastic discussions about food and gardening. Sharing a taste of something that we made, or discussing the process of making a food, discovering new ways to prepare something familiar or considering what to grow in the garden for eating later have given us a foundation of relationship that will only deepen over time. Gradually, the conversation will naturally become more personal as we learn to know and trust each other through the world of food sharing.
If this resonates with you, reach out to a neighbor, family member or friend and see if they would like to develop a weekly tradition with you to share a meal. It’s best if you can have the time to actually plan and prepare it together. If that’s too much at first, simply start with each of you providing a dish. No store bought, pre-made dishes allowed. If you have three or four people, then the entire meal is provided! Click here for recipes to get your creativity flowing.
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