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Food and Values - Welcoming the Stranger

What do you value in life? And how does this relate to your food choices?

This intersection of food and values is something I’m always interested in, though usually I think about it in terms of sustainability. This weekend, though, it’s come up in a different way here in Portland, Maine, with an event to support those targeted by a hate crime last month.

The crime happened on Christmas Eve, when someone smashed the windows of the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue.

This saddened and angered me. I like to think of Portland as a safe, welcoming place for people from any place and of any religion. Things like this violate that feeling of safety for all of us, but particularly for those who come here looking for a new home and community, where they will be accepted.

And it also upset me because food is so closely connected to our sense of identity. Imagine moving far away, where everything is different, and you can’t even eat what you’re used to. Consider how comforting it would be to find a place where you can get those familiar items from home, and still feel connected with your heritage.

Attacking that is not just a physical assault but also cuts to the heart of who we are, and how we live.

Which is why a group called Progressive Portland organized an event for this weekend to support Muslim-owned businesses. The idea is that people can stop in at “local businesses that are owned by or serve members of Portland's Muslim community”.

And I can’t help noticing that all the places listed are food-related. You can probably buy a few other things at the markets, but the focus is really on edible goods. That makes sense to me.

After all, think of how many religions and traditions focus on sharing a meal with someone, welcoming a stranger by breaking bread with them. Once you do that, they’re not really a stranger anymore, and it becomes much easier to embrace them as a friend.

Plus, as the menu for Ameera Bread reminds us, “most successful decisions in life are issued when the stomach is full.”

So if you happen to be in the area, and you have some important decisions to make that you want to do successfully, you could consider checking some of these places out. I’m personally looking forward to visiting some of them and, in doing so, satisfying both my stomach and my values.

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