Sunday Morning ~ Food Glorious Food
Uchembere ndi kudyerana. ~ To be a mature person is to help one another with food.
~ Chewa proverb
November 20, 2022
Yesterday morning, I listened to a community radio show hosted by my friend, Ron. The topic was food. Authors and editors of the book Breaking Bread, Essays From New England On Food, Hunger, and Family spoke about their relationship with food and the role it has played in their lives. In the afternoon, I went to the high school production of Oliver! Both moved me deeply.
Listening to reflections on family’s relationships with food and how it shapes our characters and bodies, I got weepy.The essays are beautifully written and spoke of love and connection through food. The cultural descriptions were evocative and I found myself missing my aunts and mother. It’s Thanksgiving week, so food is on everyone’s mind and comes up at least daily in conversation. The menu doesn’t vary here much, though food magazines are trying harder to be more diverse and inclusive. It’s also the anniversary of my mother’s passing and her birthday was during Thanksgiving week, so my emotional response didn’t surprise me. Feeding others was part of my mother’s fiber. It was how she cared for us. So much of my childhood was spent watching her in the kitchen. She started preparing supper as soon as lunch was over. The radio played the voices and I contemplated how food shaped my life while peeling apples and preparing for holiday guests.
I had a dinner invitation last evening and couldn’t attend the final performance of the high school musical, so though I don’t usually do matinees, I spent the afternoon at the theater. I knew several of the kids in the show, was present at some of their births, and heard it was exceptionally good. And I love musicals. Since I’d spent the morning thinking so much about food, about how our table was always filled with nourishing, varied foods, always fresh, always prepared with effort and care, that I nearly sobbed at the opening scene. While marveling at the tremendous job they’d done building the set, as the orphans sang about food, I found myself choking up. The costumes were fantastic, the voices sweet, and I thought about hungry kids dreaming of a decent meal. I thought about when the story was written and I realized I have not read the original book by Dickens. Highlighting social inequities in remarkable prose I wondered about his ability to capture the essence of injustice. His writing is complex but funny. I made a mental note to download it at my first opportunity. Hearing Dickens read to me is how I prefer to ingest him. I imagined children sentenced to workhouses, hungry. In my pensive mood it all seemed contemporary. Slight changes to the set and costumes and, I thought, this is now. Kids go to school hungry. Hunger is the reason for many behavioral problems and poor academic performance. Families live where there are no grocery stores only convenience stores filled with substances barely edible that I don’t consider food.
My kids were raised on show music. Not having a television in the house when they were growing up, we played cassette tapes of show music all the time. We sang together and we knew every word. When my oldest was only three, he listened to Oliver intently and ask nervously, “Why are they selling the boy? What will happen to him?” I thought at the time it was remarkable he could comprehend what they were even saying in the song, and I exploded with love for this child who was already so compassionate. I could see on his little worried face he related to the boy. Trying to understand the world we surrounded him with, I wondered how it would affect him. I was a young mother and was reminded daily of what an overwhelming responsibility it was to raise a child. I never wanted him to be hungry.
How could I have listened to that music thousands of times and not grasped the depth of the story? The music made it lighthearted somehow and the fun family time together listening and singing was what I associated it with. But yesterday, I saw it completely differently. The kids acted the roles so well that the depiction of desperation, spousal abuse, resignation of fate, and the sheer injustice of being born into difficult circumstances was highlighted in a way I hadn’t considered before. Again, it all seemed so current.
Dickens gives us a bright ending for Oliver as he lives happily, and well-fed ever after. But Nancy, a character just as lovable as Oliver, gets beaten to death by her abusive boyfriend. I was horrified at this realization. It’s not such a fine life for her after all, is it? Was it the remarkable performances by these students or my mood that influenced me? Probably both.
I’ve been contemplating where to focus my end of the year donations and both of yesterday’s experiences brought food pantries, hunger, and food justice to center stage. We have enough to go around.
Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving with hearts and bodies nourished and loved.
Love to all,