Those who have been reading my "reflections" for any length of time will know that I am an inveterate podcast-listener. Whether on Light-Rail, elliptical trainer or while cycle-commuting, I'm listening to something! Yesterday was no different. Two very different interviews, however, had a common theme: food! Food. YUM! I love to eat good food. I love to look at pictures of good food. Even a plain, raw, eggplant is one ofthe most gorgeous things! And, in a good parmigiana, it is a thing of gastronomic excellence.
The interviews, however, were not waxing eloquent over the beauties of prepared, or raw, food. One had to do with music that brought coffee farmers in Uganda together -- coffee farmers from different religious backgrounds -- Muslim and Christian (and the ethno-musicologist was a rabbi!). The other interview was with a couple of authors who had written a book about the connections between food and family and learning. The interviewer wanted to know of what kinds of foods his listeners had great memories: were there long-treasured recipes, or family traditions centered around food. But it was the first story -- about those Ugandan coffee-farmers -- that really hit me. The music that they sang/produced was fine, to be sure. And it was the discussion about the two farmers that reminded me of the line from the song in the musical "Oliver": "Food, glorious food! Hot sausage and mustard."
Food, glorious food!
How often does food appear in religious contexts! We've just passed by a couple major "food" festivals: Passover, for our Jewish neighbors, has SO many food associations; Easter, for Christians (whether practicing or not) conjures up memories/practices of "Easter dinner". Indeed, the whole practice of sacrifice is central to so many religions. And, of course, it's not just about killing an animal; it's REALLY about the meal that includes that animal. A meal that may bring the community together, a meal that may help reconcile parties in conflict.
Even the absence, or renunciation, of food draws people together. The Muslim fast of Ramadan unites the faithful in a common experience; their bond grows stronger. But the breaking of that fast, the iftar, becomes an entirely different bonding experience. Not only do the faithful joyfully eat that first date, but the meal becomes an opportunity for great hospitality -- an invitation to non-Muslim neighbors to share in the joy, to share in conversation, to increase understanding.
The interview/conversation with the Ugandan coffee-growers struck me because, as the interviewer discovered, there was NO meal together before they labored together, before they knew one another. There seems to me to have been an inherent reciprocal relationship: "we know one another; we can eat together", OR "we eat together, and now we can know one another."
The act of taking in nourishment connects us with everything that lives; to survive demands that we all eat. But really to live demands more than simply feeding. Sharing a meal, delving into what binds us together as well as what might separate us from one another, is an activity we take for granted. We hurry through our eating, availing ourselves of "fast food" so we can get to the next appointment. We so often miss opportunities to savor: to savor the flavors, to savor the company, to savor the chance to learn and grow.
Food, glorious food! How often have I learned more about another over lunch. How often have I mended fences over a dinner. How often has "the other" become my friend.
I indeed DO love "hot sausage and mustard". But it tastes so much better when I'm sharing it with others.