I remember going to the garden as a little girl and helping my parents pick tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and other fruits and veggies. I loved basking in the sun and getting my hands dirty without a care in the world. (Check out me “helping” my dad with yard work.) I know now that these experiences have profoundly shaped who I am…and who I continue to become.
As a college student at Hiram, I have experienced additional ways that food brings people together.
One example is Hiram’s vegetarian Stone Soup Cooperative. Through cooking and eating there over the past four years, I’ve seen how food in that community unites people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. The co-op helps break down barriers and causes people to join in celebration. (On the left, me and my best friend Molly eating at the Co-op sophomore year).
The nearby Hiram Farm, which provides meaningful work for adults with autism, is another example. The members of the farm get the chance to interact with the animals, grow fruits and vegetables, and use their hands and skills to help produce food.
Within walking distance from campus, the Farm also provides many opportunities for Hiram students to get involved. For example, fellow SEED Scholar Robin was an intern at the Farm last summer. She told me about how much pride everyone at the Farm felt when they harvested produce, and how excited the farmers were to sell the vegetables they helped grow and talk to customers. I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the farm, as part of my First Year Colloquium. It was very enriching to see all the joy and passion from the members of the farm as they harvested their vegetables. Hiram is very lucky to have such a place, it allows another way for us students to connect with people through food.
A final example is Hiram’s own Intercultural Forum. Here at Hiram we are fortunate enough to have a diverse cultural presence. The IF Show allows people to express their culture through dance, song, and other kinds of performance. But for many, the best part is the dinner! Students from around the world express their cultures through food—cooking authentic dishes from their native lands and sharing them with the campus. People from all over flock to this event. It not only enriches their taste buds, but also elevates their minds, showing them many ways that different cultures celebrate through and with food.
Besides the obvious fact that we need food to survive, it is a powerful force in human life.
It can break social barriers, make people laugh, bring people together, and allow people to reconnect with their cultural and family heritage. See three generations at our family farm, where my dad learned how to farm from his father. In my Italian family (my mother is Sicilian!) our culture and daily lives revolve around food. We make sure that our family eats together and that the table is full of good, plentiful food. Equally important is that good conversation and laughter is as plentiful as the food.
Wherever you live, the activities of growing, cooking, and eating food can foster traditions, and traditions foster a sense of belonging. Whether these traditions are old and shared by entire cultural groups, invented within your own family, or are being created right now with new friends, through food we can connect with others and enjoy the simple pleasures in life with people we love.
My memory as a little girl of mom asking me to run to the garden with bucket in hand to pick tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn will be a lasting one. Helping in the garden was not only a way to spend fun time with my parents, it also taught me important things about plants, growth, and cycles of life. And the fact that my parents’ expected and trusted me to help gave me confidence in my abilities to work hard and do a good job—a confidence that has continued to grow and serve me well throughout my life.
Most people have powerful food-related memories or experiences. Recalling them can help us understand what an important role food still plays (or could play) in our lives and in our community. Curious about the others’ memories, I asked friends to tell me about some of their most powerful food memories. Here’s what they said:
“Whenever I smell a freshly cut cucumber, it reminds me of my summers as a child when my family would cut cucumbers of the metal fence that separated our yard from my neighbors. I remember when the cucumbers got large enough I would run to my dad to see if I could pick it off the metal fence myself and eat it. He would come out side with me, and let me pick the cucumber, then he would pull out his pocketknife, and cut into slices for me to eat. Such a found memory.”
“My favorite food memories here at Hiram have involved bringing food to meetings for clubs or group projects and how much happier, more comfortable, and welcome that can make everyone feel.”
“We knew it was spring when my dad would bring home a big bag of fresh-picked asparagus from the wild patches he had been keeping an eye on (he was my original Euell Gibbons!) On the domestic side, the pea harvest was one of my favorite times. After several 5-gallon buckets had been filled, my sisters and I would sit outside on our double rocking swing, talking as we shelled peas into our own bowls. When the buckets were empty and the bowls were full, we’d head inside for the measuring. After that, we were treated to DQ. Whoever shelled the most peas got to pick whatever she wanted; the rest of us got dilly bars. Every spring, the sight of these foods still makes me smile”
Are there foods that remind you of special times and people you love? Have activities related to growing, cooking, or eating food influenced your life in some significant way?
Share your food story! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll compile your stories and feature them in an upcoming post. (Let me know if you’d like to remain anonymous.)