Close your eyes and imagine the food of your childhood, deeply breathe in that remembered scent, more importantly that feeling. Perhaps it’s the sweet smell of an apple pie baking or the slow cooking of a marinara sauce.
Picture the moment when you throw open the door on a cold crisp day to be blasted by the warm scent of a turkey roasting. For some of us it may be the smell of chicken soup being heated up from a can, the feeling is no different; your loved one caring for you and nourishing you with food is such a beautiful, meaningful act.
Bringing it all to the table is such a fitting topic for this time of year, as we gather around with our loved ones and reflect on what we are grateful for, surrounded by the beautiful bounty of the season.
What an important ritual of reflection and gratitude. I have so very much to be grateful for; I’ve been welcomed to sit at many lively kitchen tables in my life, and as luck would have it, all over the globe. I’ve gobbled down steaming piles of dumplings on the streets of Taiwan, dined on delicious kangaroo in Australia, and sat down to a feast of pork and veggies I helped harvest in Costa Rica.
Often times I did not speak the same language as the host, and I am so grateful to those folks who welcomed me to their table as a weary, and at times confused, traveler.
One misty humid day in Taiwan a group of us decided to hop on our motorcycles and journey up into the crisp mountains for a day of hiking to waterfalls. The further and higher we hiked into the mist, the harder the rain began to fall, and soon we transitioned from sweaty to shivery. I was downright miserable, hungry, and tired. We finally reached our destination where I laid down on a rock in total exhaustion and stared at this unbelievable waterfall surrounded by slippery green rocks and lush tropical foliage.
I sat up and as I did, an old man under a tent caught my eye, he was waving me over to him. His radiant smile was welcoming, and I sat under his tent on a log he had gathered from the forest. He was boiling a pot of tea, the warmth instantly seeped into my body. He attempted to chat with me in Mandarin Chinese, and I could simply thank him and tell him where I was from; my Mandarin isn’t great. I’m sure he quickly realized from my accent and horrible pronunciation that our conversation wouldn’t go much further. He simply smiled and proceeded to pour me a small cup of tea, I held the tiny warm cup in my hand smelling the scents of a completely new and fascinating liquid; hints of pine and grassy sweetness with a complex roasted flavor.
As I gulped it down I felt my whole body warm. I looked over to the man and saw him gingerly sipping his tea, I looked down at my cup, and together we laughed as I realized my mistake in gulping it down. He poured me another and we had a wonderful conversation that did not involve words, just the beautiful act of sharing.
I’ve had the good fortune to work for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, I spent the summer growing fresh organic vegetables for those in need. My job was to run a pay-what-you-can farm stand; and what an honor it was to spend a day in the sun and fresh air picking and tending to vegetables and giving away fresh food in the evenings.
Those who came to the farm stand told me their stories, days spent with little to no fresh food on the table or no food at all. One young participant in particular stands out to me, this person had come to work days on the farm as a volunteer. He had brought his whole family back to the farm for the evening farm stand and proudly named each vegetable and how we had harvested it. He shared recipes he had learned and some he himself had created, all while helping me to pass out items to elderly participants that need help moving things to their cars.
His mom then spoke to me of their families’ hardships and how the farm had changed this young person’s life. He had started drying herbs from the farm to make dried basil to put on top of their spaghetti and eagerly wanted to plant a garden at their home. With tears in her eyes she told me we had changed her son’s life, and hers.
The world is full of generous souls who have welcomed me to their countries, kitchens, and warm tents; I am forever grateful to those who have supported me on my journey.
This holiday season I encourage you to open your heart in your own way: cook a meal for an elderly neighbor, donate or volunteer at a Foodbank, or simply pay it forward by buying a stranger a cup of coffee.
Sit still in a quiet place and reflect on your own personal bounty, practice gratitude. Food brings us all to the table, it crosses all borders and languages; food is tradition, art, and love in its own way timeless.
Anne J Massie is a Mansfield native who resides in the Columbus area with her partner Johnny and lively hound June. She is a foodie who has a passion for community, ecological agriculture, and food justice. She has been a certified Permaculturist for a decade and recently traveled to Australia to further hone her craft. Anne owned Altered Eats Food Truck for five years, and now is a part of The Mid-Ohio Foodbank team. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, cooking, traveling, and volunteering.