Around the holidays, I always enjoyed our family gatherings where we come together to share food and stories, and to build memories. As with most children, my favorite entre was dessert. The apfelkuchen, tortes, and pies all winked at me as I struggled in deciding which to try first.
My other favorite food memories happened at our church potlucks. Being from Germany, my Mom didn’t know how to make American classics like macaroni salad, garlic bread, and B-B-Qed anything. But, my favorite dishes were the exotic fruit salads that had ingredients that were too expensive for my mom to buy, like blackberries, mangos, and coconut. Once again, I was faced with difficult choices, a small plate, and my mother’s warning, “Don’t eat with your eyes.” This was her German translation of a saying she grew up hearing, which was influenced by war times. I understood the hidden meaning: don’t stack your plate with food you’ll be too full to eat and have to toss out later.
I often think about our abundant food culture in America and how complacent we are about “eating with our eyes.” There is so much food waste at restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, and even school kitchens when food is tossed out at the end of the day because it wasn’t purchased or couldn’t be saved for another meal. Did you know that because of health codes, if a child eating the school lunch doesn’t eat the whole apple or un-pealed orange served, the fruit cannot be given back to the kitchen staff, nor be given to a student or staff to take home, nor donated to an organization? Rather, it has to be tossed out.
This holiday season, as we gather around the tables, I invite you to reflect on your abundant food blessings. I also invite you to not eat “with your eyes,” but with your heart: Consider how you can help those who cannot afford to put food on their tables. Is there a way to help them to have positive food stories? In addition to donating food and funds to the food banks and pantries, can you also volunteer and share food at the table with those facing financial or personal hardships—without judgment?
Consider supporting your local community garden. These gardens give people the space, tools, and skills to grow their own food, while connecting with people from diverse economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds. This is what my volunteer organization, the Novato Live Well Network, is doing. We’ve overcome many obstacles to build a community garden in Novato. The garden isn’t built yet, but it might happen in 2014. To learn more and to help visit: www.NovatoCommunityGarden.org or call 415-897-2302.
There are other benefits of coming to the table or the garden to share or grow food: the sharing of personal stories and the forging of positive relationships. This also allows us to get to know our “neighbors” near and far. If we listen with open hearts at the table or in the garden then, when we return to the mundane world, we will be better tooled to collaboratively address contentious issues like economic disparities, unemployment, racism, injustices, housing issues, and global climate change. I invite you to come to the table with open hearts.
Wishing you good memories,