A. Catherine Noon here, and it’s time to talk turkey. Well, not literally. But it’s definitely time to talk food. Specifically, food for those with whom we work or spend time with in large groups.
Food has the capacity to bring people together, though food and humor are two things that don’t translate. Take peanut butter, for instance. As an American, I consider peanut butter to be a staple food. I’ve eaten it my whole life, and I eat it just one way: peanuts and salt. When I went to college, a friend of mine had a jar of what she called peanut butter and I made myself some toast. I put this supposed peanut butter on it and took a big bite. (Peanut butter on toast is considered comfort food where I’m from.)
Her peanut butter had sugar in it. GACK! “What is this!?” I managed to sputter. (Try talking with your mouth full of peanut butter.) She stared at me without smiling. “It’s peanut butter. I suppose you eat that hippy stuff, huh?” “You mean, real peanut butter??” She rolled her eyes. “At least it’s not Skippy.” I eyed the label: Jif. I’m used to Smuckers Natural.
Needless to say, we were both convinced we were right. That’s what I mean when I say, food doesn’t translate.
When I moved to Chicago, I met people from even more places than I’d known in polyglot California. My landlord is German and a survivor of Auschwitz. “We don’t eat peanut butter in Germany,” he announced softly one day. His wife blinked and looked at me. “When they liberated the camps, the soldiers brought peanut butter to give the children. They thought it looked like mud,” she explained to me. He leaned forward. “But we ate it anyway.” He had a fire in his eye, as though he thought I might think him ungrateful. “They don’t eat it at all?” I asked, trying to make sense of that. He shrugged. “Peanuts are a New World food.”
So how can food actually bring people together?
When’s the last time you had dinner at what was, for you, an ethnic restaurant? I mean, go out for Mexican if you were raised European American; go to a great Southern-style place if you’re a Yank; go out for fish and chips if you’re not Irish American? As much as food can be unique to people, trying the tastes of other places can be an exciting adventure. We all have to eat, after all.
Which brings me to my point: if you work outside the home, or go to meetings or worship services of some kind, why not bring some treats with you tomorrow or the next day? They could be cookies or candy, but just as easily it could be your favorite peanut butter spread on little graham cracker squares to share. The fellowship of breaking bread together has significance in many faiths for a reason: food is essential to life, and sharing food means sharing life. Sometimes, all it takes to raise morale is a little home cookin’.
P.S. I found out about make-your-own peanut butter at a now defunct natural foods market. They have a grinder like an industrial coffee grinder, but for peanut butter. You can find them at your local fresh foods store or Whole Foods Market. They even have salted and unsalted peanuts to grind. And be alert for other nut butters, like hazelnut butter and my personal favorite, cashew butter. NOM!
What about you, Dear Reader? Peanut butter – yes or no? Sugar or no sugar?
– E.E. Cummings
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