The Welcome Table
If you know me, then you know that it's no secret that I love to cook. Something I love to do even more is eat. And to go one step further, there is nothing more enjoyable than cooking and eating with my community members. Over the last year I’ve come to realize how important the simple act of sitting down and breaking bread with my community members is. Award winning author James Beard puts it this way: “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
At Saint Hilda’s House we have a group grocery budget. Each intern gets thirty dollars a week for groceries. In theory, if a person wanted to, they could take that thirty dollars for themselves and buy their own groceries and cook their own meals. Luckily, that has not been the case in my experiences thus far. Thirty bucks doesn’t sound like enough to make much of an impact on its own, but when we pool it all together, $180 is just enough to get us by each week. So in a very cheesy way, there is a roundabout metaphor for community here somewhere. Sure, a person could try and do this whole service year thing by themselves, making no personal connections, walling off the outside world, and barely scraping by. Instead, SHH offers a place where we fight the good fight together, acquire lifelong relationships, and we get to scrape by together.
The fact that we cook for each other provides a tremendous opportunity for people to grow as chefs and independent adults. I’ve seen people who literally did not know how to boil water at the beginning of the year, become adventurous with their recipes and willingness to cook. Another housemate had not cooked much at all and by the end of our time together made some of the best meals of the year, including black bean/quinoa burgers and eggplant parmesan. I asked my Grandmother at the beginning of the year to send me a few of her recipes, and throughout the year received around twenty handwritten letters with detailed instructions on how to create some of my favorite dishes. In the grand scheme of things, these steps might seem insignificant, but the key here is to realize that the act of feeding others and breaking bread will not come to an end after nine months in New Haven, but instead will go on long after our time here is done.
Hospitality plays a major role in our community dinners as well. Inviting members of the larger community to take a seat at the table is a very important piece of communal living; it forces us to look outside our house and acknowledge those who are helping us along the way. It brings with itself some particular challenges as well, though: making sure there are extra servings of food, recognising that there might not be as many leftovers as usual, wondering whether we should we clean up or let our guests see us as we usually are, trying to put on a happy smiling face even though I’m dog tired and not a big fan of this particular guest. It might be easier to never invite people to dinner, but seating someone at the welcome table is what we are called to do throughout our lives.
House meals also provide a time to offer up experiences from our workday. I know personally, that if I’ve had a particular rough day, I will more likely than not need to vent about it, and a meal provides an informal outlet to do so. More likely than not, each of us are going to have those days where nothing goes right, plans fall through, expectations aren’t met, and sometimes we just screw up. On the other hand, there are those days where things go incredibly well, and I can’t wait to get home and tell my housemates all about it. Meals provide a place where we can be nourished body and soul by our community.