Hunger Bytes

Why People Always Bring Food

by Katie Cook

Something profound and mystical happens to human beings when they eat together. In the book Friendship Cake, Lynne Hinton discovers a profound truth about sharing food. Four women have journeyed from a rural southern town to a cemetery in the north, where their friend Louise is lingering at the new grave of a deeply loved woman. The weather is freezing, yet they sit patiently near the grave with Louise. One of them has brought a pot of steaming soup and five bowls.

Holding the bowl of soup in her lap, Louise asks, “Why is it that when you’re feeling the least like eating, people bring you food? … I mean, why don’t folks bring you casseroles when things are going great? … Why, when someone has died, does everyone suddenly have to bake a cake?”

One of the friends answers: “I think we do it because it’s all we’ve got. … Words are empty. There sure aren’t any presents to buy, but everybody’s got to eat, so we feed each other. It’s the basic, most humane way to say you care.”

While they continue to sit out in the late December cold, she goes on to say, “It’s a silly ritual, I agree. But somehow it helps to remind ourselves that life goes on. We sit together. We remember. We eat.”

Then one of the women reminds Louise of her own words, spoken about the deceased friend. “In your words, it’s just doing what love does.”

Good Sheep and Bad Goats?

by Gary Gunderson

The crowded little kitchen steamed from boiling stew and newly-washed dishes. The director—maybe shepherd is closer—interrupted the explanations to greet the guests by name as they eased nervously in the door. Everything in the room was bruised—the paint, the pans, the tables and the spirits.

A soup kitchen is a curious and ironic blend of food and failure, charity and desperation, warmth and embarrassment. It is the over-simplified symbol of hunger in America. Most of us try to look into the eyes of the street people to catch a glimpse of what it is like to be so vulnerable. We wonder what moves them and how they survive.

But another drama is played out in the eyes of the servants. For it is a hard-hearted time that mocks the worth of the weak and patronizes those who minister. What moves those who serve?

Politics is not the moving force. I’ve never met anyone making peanut butter sandwiches for hungry people who cared much one way or another about federal deficits. And dipping soup is not the way to glory and wealth. Why would someone spend their Tuesday morning or Friday night working for free in a soup kitchen instead of visiting friends, watching TV or playing with the kids?

People serve for reasons that mix curiosity and compassion. But many move from their pain toward the pain of others. They move from their sense of vulnerability and loneliness to the vivid need of the hungry. The soup is spiced with community: “you may need food, but I’ve needed things, too.” This is no parody of the last judgment with the good sheep feeding the bad goats. There are only people—some who need to eat and some who need to help.

Compassion is the clue. The word comes from Latin, meaning “to suffer together.” We can recognize ourselves in hungry people and we suffer with them. It is our wounds that empower us to heal.

Although everyone else was impressed, Jesus didn’t like to make a big deal out of feeding people. The people were hungry and he knew what that was like. The Jesus who was on his way to the cross said, “I have compassion for these people….“

You catch an echo of those words amid the pots and pans of hundreds of soup kitchens every day of the week.

—From the Sprouts edition of Seeds Magazine, January 1984.  Gary Gunderson was the Seeds editor.

It’s All about the Feast

by Katie Cook

I have been, for better or worse, a major “simplify your life and feed the poor” voice, in my community and in publications, for about 30 years. So, when I recently showed the movie Babette’s Feast to a group of college students at my church, one of them, William, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want to know why a Franciscan is showing me this movie.”

Babette’s Feast came out in 1987, so I don’t think a spoiler alert is absolutely necessary. (I mean, really; if you haven’t watched it by now…) The film, based on the book by Isak Dinesen, is set in a Protestant village on the remote and mostly frozen coast of Jutland in 1871.

Babette Hersant, a highly acclaimed Parisian chef, is forced to flee from counter-revolutionary violence in France. She ends up in the little coastal village and becomes the cook for two pious spinsters, who know nothing about her past.

Just before an important anniversary for the local church, Babette wins the lottery and asks for the pleasure of preparing a banquet for the occasion. She spends all of her lottery winnings on one beautiful and sumptuous feast for the community. The result, to me anyway, is magical.

But there I sat, at that college retreat, wondering what to say to William. He had a very good point. Why was a Franciscan showing those students this movie? Why do I love this movie? What in it makes me cry tears of joy every time I see it?

I mentioned this recently to John, my Franciscan brother, and he simply said, “It’s all about the Feast.”

It’s all about the Feast.

It’s ALL about the Feast.

When a voice in my head says, “Shouldn’t Babette have made more prudent use of her money?” another voice says, “Shouldn’t this money have been used to feed the poor?” And I think of the story of the woman in the gospels who uses an expensive ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet.

What are we supposed to do with this dichotomy?

Yes, for those of us who care passionately and profoundly about the world’s impoverished people, it IS about sharing and consuming less, so that there will be enough for everyone.  It IS about figuring out what is too much for me, and how that affects my soul.

But it’s also about the Feast.

There’s something here I can’t articulate. I can only touch the edge of it.  I can’t see the whole picture. I can’t make it form clearly in my mind. But there’s a reality there beyond all of the other realities I know. It makes me think of Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s “Rumours of Glory.” One of the lines says, “Something is shining, like gold, but better.”

Here’s another example of what I think was a glimpse of that elusive reality. There was a television show on ABC about 13 years ago called Nothing Sacred. It was about a Catholic church in a rough neighborhood in New York City.

In the second episode, a couple in the parish is getting married, but the groom—who happens to be on staff at the church—has forgotten to book a place for the wedding dinner.

He has also forgotten to tell the soup-kitchen staff that, since he forgot to book a place, he made arrangements for the wedding food to be delivered to the church. So the staff, thinking it is a generous donation to the soup kitchen, serves it to the street folks who come in that day.

The couple has a huge fight, and the bride threatens to walk out.

The pastor, Father Ray, manages to get the wedding party upstairs to the church, and while the wedding ceremony takes place upstairs, the soup-kitchen staff are in the downstairs hall, improvising a wedding supper from whatever they can find in the kitchen.

Then the electricity goes out. They find boxes of candles and light them, and suddenly the hall is not so shabby looking. A volunteer finds two pheasant dinners someone has donated, and they arrange to serve them to the bride and groom. They somehow find enough food for everyone.

Finally, because of all of the truly concerted effort that has gone into the supper, what began as a disaster becomes a beautiful event. It becomes a joyful feast.

We eat together. We find new recipes and try them out on each other. We put flowers on the table. We enjoy the food, the presentation, the nourishment. We work ourselves half to death trying to find ways to make the world a place where everybody can do that.

We’re all connected in the necessity of food. We try our best to share with our brothers and sisters—ALL of our brothers and sisters.

It’s all about the Feast.

—From “Feasting Together So That None Shall Go Hungry,” the 2011 Sacred Seasons Hunger Emphasis worship packet, Seeds of Hope Publishers.