Like many, I’ve been thinking a lot about racial injustice and wondering what I can do to help, and particularly wondering if I should write anything about it here. I don’t have a big platform or lots of influence, but it still feels important to acknowledge what’s happening.
Then I realized that I could write about one of the things that unites instead of divides us – food.
This isn’t to say that people don’t argue about food or have different tastes. But no matter what color skin you have, you need food. We all feel hunger. And all of us have certain foods that bring us comfort and delight.
Love of Ice Cream
I learned early that love of ice cream doesn’t depend on skin color.
That’s because I had the unusual experience of knowing a couple of kids who weren’t Caucasian when I grew up in rural Maine in the 1980s. Even now, this is a predominantly white state, so it was even more surprising then to see anyone who wasn’t fair-skinned.
But from the time I was around three, my brother and I spent a lot of time with the kids from another family, which included a boy named Steve who had been adopted as an infant from Korea.
One of the things we did with Steve and his two older sisters was swimming lessons. And on some of those days, we stopped to get ice cream on the way home.
Even though I was little, I remember that all of us loved the ice cream. It didn’t matter whether it was one of us blonde, blue-eyed girls or Steve, with his light brown skin, black hair, and brown eyes. For all of us, it was a perfect treat for a hot summer day.
Familiar Comfort Foods
For a few months in college, I lived with an African American roommate from the south, and I quickly learned that we had different favorite foods. I particularly remember that she made a lot of chicken and biscuits.
One of the reasons this struck me is because I’ve never developed a taste for biscuits. I don’t know why, since other people in my family like them, but I dislike biscuits enough that whenever we have strawberry shortcake, I just have berries and cream.
For me during those college days, if I wanted something bready, I’d go for an English muffin. What could be better than a warm, toasted English muffin with butter melting into those nooks and crannies?
My roommate didn’t share my preference, but even though we had different tastes, it was clear that we each found certain foods very comforting and familiar.
Sharing a Meal
And one of the things that most unites us is sharing a meal.
This has been true for centuries. People talk about “breaking bread” with someone as a way of finding common ground. Even if two people or two groups are enemies, sharing food can signal a truce and a chance to move forward. After all, it’s hard to be angry with someone who’s just filled your belly with good food.
Eating together also reinforces our shared humanity. it reminds us that no matter what other differences we have, we all need food to survive. We all have memories of favorite meals, often with loved ones.
This commonality is something I’ve thought about a lot in the work my church does with Greater Portland Family Promise, an organization that helps homeless families get back on their feet. When it’s time for my church to host, we have homeless families – almost always immigrants or refugees – staying at our church, and we provide meals for them.
Even when we can hardly communicate with words because of language barriers, we’re still connecting. A bond forms in those shared moments and appreciation of the food that helps bridge the gap between us.
Focus on What We Share
As we continue through this difficult time, I hope we can remember to focus on what all people share, regardless of race or anything else that differentiates us. Those commonalities include the need for food, but also water, air, compassion, kindness, and love.
This focus won’t fix things or erase the pain of years of discrimination and injustice, but recognizing our kinship – and perhaps sharing a meal when the pandemic is over – is a place to start.