A Reflection
Food and Community

Food for Thought- A Blog Post

Food has long been an important part of my life. From as young as I can remember, food and love were interchangeable ideas in our family. You’ve hurt yourself? Have a jelly baby. You’ve got an outstanding school report? Let’s make a cake. You’re going away to university? Let’s have your favourite dinner for a Last Supper.

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Although this approach to food has meant that I sometimes struggle to separate nutrition from emotion, the big celebrations in the year- Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Sundays- all centre around food and family.

Perhaps because of this upbringing, mealtimes in lockdown have become precious. Although we always eat dinner together (and are very blessed to have a dining table to sit around), we are making lunchtime a priority and my husband is ensuring he logs off from work and physically eats with us.

Child behaviour studies have long championed the importance of eating together as a family, to establish strong relationships and good social skills. This was something that Jesus modelled too. He and his disciples often ate together. Hospitality was a cultural norm. It has sometimes frustrated me, as someone without an off switch when it comes to sugary things, that we seem unable to have a church service or meeting without the presence of biscuits, cake or a full blown meal. But it is also a wonderful thing, because I think it is round this ceremony of eating that we can really connect.

This is the premise that drives some of the social eating kitchens that operate around Nottingham. Projects like Parkgate Community Kitchen and Bestop Kitchen have given rise to communities that bring joy and meaning to the people that attend them. The relationships formed here have meant that projects like Bestop have continued to serve their local community even in this time of lockdown (see here for Chris Easton’s good news report about Bestwood). It is my hope that, when we emerge out of this season, that desire for connection and community will bring even more people together (see the end of the blog for community kitchens near you).

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During the sunny weather, my children have asked for picnics in the garden. A few times I have dutifully made everyone a lunch, taken it to them in batches, and eventually joined them with my own lunch as the party was beginning to break up. Yesterday I went the whole hog. I fetched the cool bag down from the cupboard, spent 20 minutes packing up a picnic in various old takeaway containers, and then carried it with procession 30 yards to the garden to unpack it again. A few times I wondered if I had finally lost the plot, and whether the effort was really worth it, but it truly was. I think it was one of the most memorable meal times we’ve had since staying safe at home.

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Of course, for many during this season, the availability of food will be a real source of worry. Foodbanks are in ever increasing demand and, if you are in a more fortunate position, please consider donating goods at a supermarket collection point or making a financial donation (details at the end of this blog). But it is not necessarily the abundance of food that can make mealtimes special. ‘Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.’ (Prov 17:1 ESV). Not that there is a lot of peace and quiet in our house at mealtimes but hopefully you know what I‘m getting at. It is the enjoyment of eating together and being physically present that can bring connection.

So, here are just a few ideas for making mealtimes special- whatever the space or budget:

  • Decorate! For Easter Sunday we put up some old bunting that we had, got dressed in our finery (well, at least not our pyjamas) and had a ‘party’. Nothing extravagant, but it brought a sense of occasion and made some memories.
  • Carpet picnic. So not everyone has a back garden to picnic in (plus it’s raining as I type), or a dining table to eat around. But if you have an old blanket, a few cushions and a morsel of bread to share, why not hold your very own carpet picnic?
  • Virtual dinner party. I realise that I am coming from a perspective of having people with me in lockdown. If you are on your own, or maybe self-isolating from people in your own house, you could set up some technology and ‘dine’ together over a video call. (I’ve also heard of people playing board games this way but haven’t got my head round that one yet!).
  • Create some ‘hygge’. The Scandanvian art of cosy, pronounced ‘hoo-gah’. Think candlelight, a posy of daisies on the tables, or your very favourite cuisine. Anything to bring that warm and fuzzy feeling, whether dining for one or eight, lots of ideas available via an internet search.
  • Thankfulness. Although, as a family, we are paid up followers of Jesus, we don’t necessarily say ‘grace’ before our evening meal, in the traditional sense. We do, however, try and think of things that we are thankful for from the day. It ranges from sunshine (me), to choc-choc (toddler), to family time, to being safe at home. Or it may just be the delicious/ basic/ slightly odd combination of food that is before us. We’re yet to have a day where there is nothing to be thankful for, and that is a true blessing indeed.