Two years and over 5.5 million Covid-19 deaths later (in the US, as of this writing, we’re screaming towards one million) – these figures being conservative estimates, because countless cases remain unreported – we humans continue to bear the terrible brunt of a global health crisis that has morphed into compounding socio-political, psychological, and economic crises, because we do not trust our governments and we do not trust each other.
I wonder: is it because we rarely break bread with each other?
Is it because we are no longer frequently sharing coffee, or tea, a bottle of beer or wine?
When we look back on this first coronavirus pandemic, what we will remember most? Will it be the moments of connection or the weeks of isolation? Will we focus on the deprivation or the augmentation?
I suspect our answers to those questions will change; and that how we choose to share food (or not) will be at the heart of what we most remember.
My first pandemic essay, a flash-nonfiction piece entitled “Orange Alert” (published in Route 7 Review), came about after I spilled coffee on myself, an act that provoked a feeling of being overwhelmed with the 2020 collision of catastrophes: climate change, California wildfires, Covid-19 deaths, persistent racism. The title is a sly reference to The Former Guy, whose insidious toxins had already infiltrated and deformed countless aspects of What Is No Longer Really A United States.
Today is February 14, 2022, and we are still in Orange Alert.
Most of us remain in various states of isolation.
While I could spend a great deal of time discussing past and current history that got us to this point, using a zillion examples from the State (Florida) and messed-up Nation of my birth; suffice to say that I have always been on the side of the marginalized, and part of that is due to being baptized into one of the most radical churches in EuroAmerica.
I grew up Mennonite, and a simple way to explain the mind-blowing traditions and philosophies of that particular sect is to suggest you buy the More with Less Cookbook, or even better, the Extending the Table Cookbook.
Both cookbooks are radical because they go against everything a capitalist/consumerist society exalts. Instead, these recipes show how to eat mindfully (and ecologically-friendly) and build connections with others; to demonstrate care for our world with how we choose and prepare our food. They are classics, and I’ve been following their recipes since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
(Please note: I am not down with religious proselytizing! Note the word “lie” in the middle of that word. Either we live a life by constantly endeavoring to do good things in a good way, or we make all manner of specious claims to that effect, thereby becoming hypocrites. Simple as that.)
“I would go and eat their food.” (His response to a question about how to connect with people.)Salustiano lopez, toba indian church leader
If you are close to me, you will have heard me refer to “The United Nations of Jeanine’s Loves.” Check out my FaceBook crowd – while it’s a hella motley mixed thousand-odd people, this is a mere microcosm of everyone I’m connected to, largely because 70% of the people I love don’t have smartphones or internet (gasp!), because they live in remote areas, don’t have high incomes, are quite elderly, or all of the above.
I have spent most of the past two years circulating amongst these Beloveds, largely outside, safely and socially distanced. I have brought pie and pizza other baked goods, I have grilled fish and sausages, I have cooked soups and hauled Thai and Mexican and Puerto Rican take-out. And I will continue to do so.
Because of this, my connections have grown stronger.
Despite the pandemic.
“Gifted,” the short piece I published in a Food-centric issue of the tiny (Re) An Ideas Journal, contains condensed snippets of times when food was shared with me in kitchens across the globe: with families in Pennsylvania, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Flores and Sumbawa islands (Indonesia), the Comoros islands, and California.
The meals I describe in each snippet are modest.
Yet the tremendously powerful love shared during those meals is anything but modest.
Each sharing brought a softening, and a humbling: in ways that reverberate across the decades and distances. These are meals that changed me, and taught me how to be a better human being.
I am grateful for having been gifted: with food, love, and lessons.
I believe in the power of community. I applaud the efforts of every civic, literary, environmental, and religious group that continues to try to pull us back together. Within my circles, this means Bay Area 350.org, the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians Tribal Environmental Office, the Plymouth Church of Jazz & Justice in Oakland, and emergent online news media like The Oaklandside and The Mendocino Voice.
There are so many ways we can gift each other, despite this pandemic which, on the surface, appears to get in the way of everything.
But only if we let it.