Last June I sent out a call for community nourishment to a small group of friends in Toronto.
It started like this: “Hi friends. Since my mom’s diagnosis with osteosarcoma, followed by a life-saving below-the-knee amputation, and, now, chemotherapy, a number of folks have asked me if there’s anything they can do to help. ‘Community nourishment’ is my answer.”
The relationship between community and food
Much has been said about the special relationship between community and food. In the latest episode of my podcast, Life Without Us, my good friend and guest Natalie Bay captures it well when she says, “I always find that sitting down and sharing a meal with people, breaking bread, is the best way to connect.”
The last year and half of pandemic public health protections have made this pathway to community and connection much harder to access than usual for most of us.
That’s what makes Natalie’s story of pandemic shared meals all the more inspiring. It started with her texting friends about her ‘boring’ plans to cook macaroni and cheese with the leftovers in her fridge during Toronto’s first lockdown. Now, over a year later, she’s had several days during the pandemic where she had to remind herself she didn’t need to clean her place for dinner guests, even though she did have plans to dine with friends that night.
When I sent out my call for community nourishment, it was exactly this faux dining with friends energy I was craving.
Our society’s obsession with independence
My ask to my community went on as follows:
“I’m planning to be in Toronto for a few days every three weeks for my mom’s next five chemo treatments, which go until early October. Should it work for any of you to cook some extra food for me and my family while I’m there, I’d really appreciate it. You can drop it off at my folks’ place if that works, or, I can even pick it up if transportation is a barrier. Bonus: we’d get to see each other, which I’d really benefit from.”
The response to my email was immediate and beautiful. Since sending out my call, every three Mondays I’ve eaten community care for supper, and while each time my dad says, “we’ve already got food we can eat,” we’ve both appreciated that in the midst of our many layers of caregiving there are friends out there caring for us, too.
It wasn’t easy for me to send out my call for community nourishment. First, I needed to realize that this was what I needed. Then, I had to navigate the shame of asking for help. This is a challenge that, I promise you, even the most practiced of community builders struggles with given our society’s obsession with independence.
I was aided in both steps by a caring friend who sent a delicious cheese and crudité platter to our home in Ottawa last spring when she heard about what was going on with my mom. That weekend, my partner and I got to cook less, and it felt easier to do the things we needed to do to care for our family and ourselves, and even though we didn’t *need* it . . . it felt amazing to have received.
Cooking with Nat
Natalie is one of several friends who has contributed to my community nourishment ask this summer. She is also, as you’ll hear in the podcast episode when you listen to it, a very talented community builder and cook.
She kindly offered to share two of the recipes from the meal you get to experience her and her ‘Cooking with Nat’ community members prepare on the podcast.
I hope that if you find time to try any of these recipes you’ll give some thought to who you might cook some extra soup for to drop off the next day.
Or, if you’re in need of some support yourself, I hope you might consider sending this post to some of your community members and asking them if they think cooking this or another dish for you is a way they might show up for you in the next while.
There’s been a lot written about self-care. As a Latinx woman of colour, as a partner, daughter, mom, sister, friend, business owner, and more, I agree: practicing self care is radical and necessary.
It’s not enough, though. We also need to care for each other. Community nourishment, whether in the form of actual food or another offering, is something we all need to feel full.
- Grate 2 roma tomatoes using the large holes of a box grater.
- Grate 1 to 2 cloves of garlic using the small holes of the same grater.
- Over medium heat, toast 1/2 cup of fideo noodles in a tablespoon of olive oil until deep brown in colour. (You can also use broken angel hair pasta).
- Add tomatoes and garlic, and approximately 4 cups of chicken broth.
- Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Serve with a wedge of lime.
- Finely chop cilantro, jalapeño and onion.
- Add about 1 tbs of each to a mortar and pestle and crush them with a pinch of salt until they form a paste. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, try using your cutting board with a heavy object like a rolling pin).
- Add 1 avocado, break it up with a spoon, and mix it to coat it with the paste.
- Add lime to taste.