Walk through any of Chestermere’s neighbourhoods at supper time and you’ll catch a whiff of the diversity in your community. The aromas of a spicy dish, a smoky barbecue, baking bread, or frying fish are a reminder that we live in neighbourhoods where people come from all kinds of delicious backgrounds. The way we eat reflects our stories and our stories matter.
When i was young my father worked with many Hutterite farmers. We were sometimes invited to a Hutterite colony for a meal. As a young boy I ate most of my meals with my mom, dad, and sister, so it was eye opening to see a large room full of men, women, and children eating together. I ate homemade food and some dishes were new to me. Some customs and languages were foreign to me. Eating around their table did far more than deepen my culinary experience, it expanded my understanding, and love, for people who lived lives that were different than my own. Food gave me a new perspective and I am grateful that I was welcomed around their table.
A couple years ago my Filipino neighbours invited our family over for supper. The table was covered in banana leaves and down the middle of the table was fish, vegetables, rice, fruit, and flavours I did not know existed. We feasted using our hands to dig in, and when the meal was over and we picked every bone clean, we rolled up the leaves and composted all the leftovers. It was a feast that led into an evening of stories, ideas, and laughter. I’ll never forget it, and love that family dearly.
In the grand story of human history, most people did not interact with other cultures. Most lived close to family and tribe, sharing a common language, faith, and even food. It is comforting to be close to familiar experiences and people that understand us. Today we do not live in cloistered tribes, but a diverse city. Our neighbours may be different than us, but we do not have to stand at a distance. Crossing cultural barriers can often happen around a table. When we eat with others and experience their culture we change, we grow, and we may even love in unexpected ways.
Our kitchens and dining room tables may be the places where cultural divides are understood and diminished. When we eat with others, and eat new foods, we step across barriers. Cesar Chavez said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
Your neighbours may speak a different language, eat different food, worship in a different way, or hold different values. But they are worthy of knowing and caring for. When we eat together we may discover that their differences are not the barriers we expected, but a joy to discover and know.
May we eat with our neighbours and experience the joy, peace, and love that comes from discovering the goodness in our own neighbourhoods. Wonderful relationships always have a beginning. Your very best friendship might begin in your kitchen, and around your table.