Last night I went to my favorite Greek restaurant. It’s a crazy little place owned by generations of Greeks who stand on the sidewalk and yell at you to come in and eat. You’re almost afraid not to go in! Soon I was met with fresh pita, fabulous hummus and briny, salty olives. It was delish and exactly what I needed after a frantic day at work.
Food has a way of doing that to you: making you relax, take a deep breath and slow down, even if it is just for a moment. It has the power to soothe your soul and is often coupled nicely with your favorite pair of stretchy pants. It can also cross boundaries, timelines and stereotypes; and yet it also helps to define cultures and people. Food builds bridges, people. Granted, most of my meals are spent over the kitchen sink scarfing down a bowl of cereal or eating my weight in cookie dough, but that is totally beside the point.
When I travel, I always take super crunchy peanut butter with me (Sheryl knows this, we have traveled together, poor thing). It is more like my security blanket than my back-up meal plan. Nevertheless, it has gotten me through many shady culinary situations and late-night, jet-lagged conversations with new friends.
Recently, I traveled to Turkey to stay with a Turkish family. And upon my arrival, I presented a jar of the super crunch to my host mother. She grinned and immediately proceeded to smear it on freshly baked bread. We had known each other for less than ten minutes and couldn’t even speak the same language, but we had found a common love together.
If you rewind a year or two, my family and I had bonded with her son over a meal at my house. He was a student at seminary, training to be a pastor, and I was working in the development office trying to raise scholarship money for people just like him. I had invited him over for a home cooked meal, knowing that he was missing his family and craving something other than ramen noodles and applesauce.
Thus, our friendship with him was formed over my mom’s lasagna and homemade ice cream. He relaxed, sank into his chair and began to open up with stories of his hometown and all of the things he missed about Turkey, including his mom. Many more evenings like this followed, him giving us lessons on theology, geography and history, and us feeding him Oklahoma comfort food of fried chicken, fried okra, fried pies…well, pretty much anything fried. It didn’t take long for us to officially adopt him into our clan.
Therefore food not only has the ability to expand your waistline but also your family. To me, food is an experience and the more people that join me, the better. So whether you are chowing down on a shawarma, a burrito, a bowl of curry or a greasy hamburger, I hope you are able to savor the flavors and the company. Or when in doubt, just carry a jar of peanut butter with you.
From Sheryl: Just in case you wanted to see who was writing today, Sarah provided this wonderful picture of the two of us. Isn’t it amazing how we both dressed to match the old city part of Rabat, Morocco?! If you’d like to read more of Sarah’s ruminations (and you really should!), go here. She has some great recipes there as well as great writing. Head over there and give her some blog love!