Like many people I have a complicated relationship with food. Food was always a part of annual celebrations of Easter, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays. I still remember the menus of those gatherings which only changed if we traveled for the holiday which often involved lots of family and even more food! Today, I love to cook and eat good healthy food. I love to share a meal with folks even if the meal is a simple bag lunch. I struggle to keep my weight healthy and therefore, have to monitor what I eat pretty carefully. I envy people who can eat whatever whenever and don’t have to agonize over “one more bite or serving” or how much they eat each day.
Cruise ships are dangerous places when it comes to food. There are plenty of opportunities to overeat really good, even healthy, food. Over the years of cruising I’ve learned to manage and only gain a pound or two, but I have to admit that with 80 days on a cruise ship I may not be able to do that this time.
Food has a central role in most of our lives whether we have enough, more than enough, or not enough. Sharing a common meal gathers us together and binds us together in important ways. That was Jesus’ culture and must be why he left us with a particular ritual to share around a meal. Those rituals and the sharing of food – bread and wine – are life giving in the relationships they produce.
In Buenos Aires we discovered how much that is true in the Argentinian culture. We participated in a Culinary Walking Tour – an excursion which took us to an old part of the city where we walked to four different restaurants to sample local food and wine.
Argentina is known for its beef and, more recently, for its wine, and we quickly enjoyed the hospitality of the locals, the fellowship of our companions and the local guide who was full of knowledge and tales of how he got started in the touring business and created this tour. The food was really good, the wine was special and the company was great. We were stuffed by the end of our journey but returned to the ship full of a sense of this lively country and its people.
That, to me, is the true gift of food – the sitting down together and sharing a common blessing of life around a table. It makes me truly thankful for the creatures and plants of the earth. As a Human Being I am grateful for the variety of ways in which food is prepared, presented, consumed and enjoyed, whether at a local church dinner provided for those in need or the most posh restaurant in a fancy city. It is in the sharing that we are bound together in one common life for all.
That all means that how we care for the earth that provides our food is essential to the vitality of human life and for the rest of life on our planet. Consuming less potentially makes more food available for others. I have the great privilege of serving at our local food bank. In addition to what the government provides (used to be called government surplus) and what is purchased to fill in the gaps, the two grocery stores on our island give generously to the effort from their leftover food. This includes fresh produce and high quality meat. Our clients vary from older folks on restricted incomes to large families who struggle to make ends meet to young adults just making their way in the world. Sharing the abundance of our life is important to my own welfare. I need to serve as much as I need to eat.
Perhaps that’s the downside of cruising. We are almost always being served instead of serving. We are almost always consuming instead of giving. The one gift we can give everyone who serves us is our grateful attention and concern about their person and ongoing well being. And, as we break bread and eat our beautifully presented meals we can give thanks for their lives and work among us.
Gathering around food is not only important for our health but, most especially for the well being of our human community. (Perhaps Congress should convene over a meal!). As I continue “on the way”, I’ll be considering how to engage the food around me with more intention, how to conserve and share the food I have, and how to serve in ways that promote communion among all peoples.