In today's edition of Small Town Newspaper:
As a volunteer at the Greater Dover-New Philadelphia Food Pantry, I have been assigned different jobs each week. One time I might hand out bags of onions and potatoes, and then another maybe some sweet peppers or apple juice. But recently, I was assigned an unexpected job—I was to ask a specific question of each person in line and have him or her write the answer on a paper plate.
The exercise was part of the Ohio Paper Plate Campaign, a program sponsored by HARCATUS* and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. Plates loaded with personal messages from food bank recipients around the state will be gathered and sent to state legislators to impress upon them the importance of funding for food bank programs.
The question I asked was this: what does food mean to you? Being in a slight hurry, a few respondents quickly stated the obvious, that food is a necessity, and it keeps their bellies full. Some recognized food as a source of comfort, and many considered food the greatest tool in raising healthy kids, saying that good nutrition was essential for their growth and brain function. But one man summed up the meaning of food in three words—food is life.
Food is life. On the surface, it seems such a simple concept, but I think the phrase represents the real complexity of being human. After all, we aren’t mere animals eating simply to stop a feeling of hunger and then hunting for the next meal. We plan, prepare and eat food as a way to enhance every aspect of our lives.
I posed the Paper Plate question to my friends and family, and because they had time to elaborate, they demonstrated for me the idea that food is life beyond survival. Some told me about childhood memories they associate with food, like watching generations of women who would spend all day preparing feasts for family gatherings, and “there was enough food around to feed a village,” one friend said. Another friend has fond memories of occasions when her father would make his special bean soup cooked in a well-seasoned kettle over an open flame. Her mother would make yeast rolls to go along with it, and the meal became a seasonal event.
Others think of food as a way to join with their family and friends no matter what’s served. When you share a meal with people, you can’t help but connect with them, to let down your guard around a dining table and enjoy good conversation and hearty laughter. A sister of mine sees food as a way to build relationships. “Whenever we want to welcome someone or honor them or comfort them, it is most often expressed over food,” she said. As someone who is an accomplished party planner and who organizes meals for sick people in her church, she would know.
For me, food is the best gift I can give, and having guests enjoying themselves around my dining table is a great delight. Set me to the task of hosting a dinner party, and I shift into high gear—planning the menu with the guests in mind, shopping for the best ingredients I can get my hands on, dusting the cat hair off the seat cushions and cooking without burning anything if at all possible. Giving food to someone else is a gift given with love, and as one of my friends so wisely stated, “Cooking without love or joy never makes for a good meal.”
To say that food is life goes far beyond the basic idea of food as fuel to keep the heart pumping. We use food to express our joy, our sorrow and our gratitude. We offer food as a form of compassion in times of loss and as a way to celebrate our happiest occasions. When these paper plates arrive in Columbus, I hope the messages they convey prove the real point of proper funding for food banks—for those in need, and for the rest of us, food is about more than physical survival. Food is fundamental to a well-rounded and robust existence. Food is life, and even those on a bare-bones budget need a full taste of it.
*HARCATUS is a local aid agency that provides programs for all kinds of people—kids, families, people with financial needs, the elderly. It operates on grants, mainly. Very good thing.