**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 4, No. 1 January 2002
Greetings to community-builders in this new year of 2002!
One of the central activities of a family and community that often is taken for granted is eating together. I would like to reflect on this subject in this month’s newsletter.
For many folks, the holiday season has meant another round of family reunions and family dinners. Even if we live and work in other worlds the rest of the year, gathering together for a Christmas meal or holiday party symbolizes our ties as family and friends.
People who eat together share a sense of companionship and community. Part of it is the cultural aspect of common tastes in food, but there is something even more profound. There is a certain intimacy about sitting down to the same table, filling plates out of the same serving bowls, and enjoying the same food together that signifies community.
It is more than symbolic; eating together actually *is* a main component of community. People don’t often sit down together at the same table unless they know that they feel some common fellowship and companionship around that table. Those are the feelings and the level of trust that build communities.
The more often people eat together, the deeper is the level of community. There are perhaps some who go to holiday gatherings out of a sense of duty more than genuine feelings of community. However, when we eat together weekly, and even more, when we eat together daily, there is an even greater awareness that this cannot happen unless we consciously share resources and talents and work together to make it happen.
People who eat together daily share common economic ties; they operate as a family unit. They need to make decisions about who will earn the money to buy the food, who will plan the menus, who will do the cooking, and even who will clean up afterwards. The very act of making and carrying out such decisions is significant. It is significant whether those decisions are made according to ancient traditions such as “Father earns the money, Mother buys and cooks, and children help clean up” or whether those decisions are made more self-consciously, as in many families these days.
When the daily act of taking in nourishment to sustain our physical lives is done *together* it also nourishes our emotional and spiritual lives and builds community. But what happens when there are persons with special needs as a part of this culture and home economy of eating? We’ll explore that next.
I feel privileged and humbled to belong to a group of people who have done some thinking about what it means to live and eat both simply and wholesomely in a *worldwide* community. For those who are interested, the “More-with-Less Cookbook” and related books are wonderful resources for both thinking and action on these issues.
While these resources are *not* available at CR Books, a great place to get these books is from MennoLink Books. Go direct to http://www.mennolink.org/books/morewithless.html to see what I’m talking about.
Living with persons with disabilities can change eating patterns. This is most obvious when there are physical disabilities that prevent a person from eating “normally.” Can a person fed from a tube through an intravenous line experience the same kind of community as happens through the physical act of chewing food at the same time? What happens to community when one person has to feed another? Is the eating of the *same* food a necessary part of this community?
Our own household illustrates some of the subtleties of this subject. One issue is how we take into account the differing tastes of persons who have grown up in different households but now share a home together. Some of us might not get our favorite meat and potatoes as often, as we defer to others who like rice dishes.
Then there are health factors. For some, disabilities, medications, and simple differences in metabolism mean that we need to limit our food intake. For one person in our household, the challenge is just the opposite; he needs to eat more. We have found that passing the dishes around the table, a key element in “family-style” dining, rarely works. The person who takes the most is the one who needs it least, while the person who needs to eat more has to be coaxed to take more. For those who can’t understand why they shouldn’t get as much as a housemate, this can become a problem of fairness and a source of irritation. So we have worked at this challenge by filling plates ahead of time for most items and then serving them. It may not give as many warm fuzzy feelings of community, but it helps us to structure a meal so that we take care of each other and our differing needs.
Despite the fact that our meals are usually pretty routine and perhaps even mundane, I am struck again by how significant this simple routine is in our world. To build community, we can start by finding ways to eat together.
* This may mean trying the food of another culture.
* It may mean adjusting our attitude so that feeding another person is not a chore but an act of kindness and companionship that enables that person to enjoy the benefits of a common meal.
* It may mean eating less and savoring the experience more so that others can simply eat enough to survive.
* It may mean finding creative ways to invite those to the table who don’t often get invited.
In the Bible, heaven is often pictured as a banquet. Jesus himself told one of his most compelling stories (often called parables) in response to a dinner guest who shouted out “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” In the story (see Luke 14:15-24, quotes from NRSV), it becomes evident that many who come to expect an invitation to the grand dinner find all sorts of worldly distractions and excuses which lead them to decline the invitation. The banquet master therefore instructs his servants to do something so creative that it would have been virtually unthinkable. ‘ Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ Those who are most touched by the world’s pain are most ready to accept the heavenly invitation.
In sitting down and eating with, and indeed, even honoring, those that the world calls marginal and misfits and disabled, we are not only creating community, but living out a foretaste of God’s ultimate plan and reign.
So come and join the banquet! In sharing food and resources and fellowship, we find life!
Paul D. Leichty
The Goldenrod Community
Phone/Fax: 1-877-214-9838 (toll free)
“People using Technology building Community”