I believe in sharing food.
Growing up in Penns Valley, I became accustomed to a community that shared the fruits of its labor. Fresh produce was abundant due to the many farmers in the area, and neighbors shared recipes and baked dishes for friends in need.
But when I moved to Boston for my freshman year of college, I was most shocked by my sudden change of diet. I no longer had access to fresh, inexpensive produce and home-cooked meals. Instead, I ate at the dining hall and bought snacks from convenience stores. My new friends enjoyed going out to eat, which I couldn’t afford to do often while paying for school. I had to make the decision many times to stay on campus and eat at the dining hall instead of going out and spending time with them. At home, making a meal had been a social event in its own right. Friends and family would gather, and the food tasted all the better knowing that it had been made with loving hands.
Feeling homesick, I organized a group meal among my college friends. Using one of the campus kitchen facilities, we pushed together tables and started cooking. I decided to make my family’s traditional English dinner, inspired by my great grandmother, that we usually reserved for special occasions: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, creamed cabbage, and a custard trifle.
About a week later, my friend Emily made a traditional Salvadorian dinner, featuring her delicious carne guisada, or “stewed beef.” That night, Emily not only shared a meal with us, but also shared part of her culture. I was excited for the potential meals to come, if my friends continued to make meals based on their families’ heritages. The meals would include food from Japan, Greece, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Chile, and China. Unfortunately, we all parted soon after for the summer, and I decided to transfer to the University of Pittsburgh. I still keep in touch with my Boston friends, and I still hope to share these meals with them one day.
While in Pittsburgh, I joined a student club called FORGE, or Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment. I was paired with a refugee family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help mentor them in English and everyday American life. This generous family often made a fresh sweet bread, called mandazi, for those who volunteered to help them. Although they had very little, they shared their food with us, and it brought the entire room closer.
Next semester, I hope to cook for them and swap recipes as we trade stories from our lives and different perspectives on the world around us. I believe sharing food is one of the best ways to bring a community closer, and the dinner table rivals any state room for diplomatic discussion and the exchange of ideas.
Samantha Bastress is from Spring Mills and is a summer intern with WPSU. She’ll soon begin her junior year at the University of Pittsburgh studying communications.