Some of you will remember a 1981 movie with Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn in which they spend two hours eating dinner and talking. It’s now a cult film for my generation. The stories, mostly those of Gregory, are so fascinating that the audience remains engaged even with no apparent action. It’s sort of a strange thing about that film – the viewer wants to enter the conversation. Yesterday I had brunch with a small group of friends whom I have not seen in quite some time and we had a dinner-with-Andre kind of conversation that sprawled beyond the meal table and tumbled into the garden as the afternoon unfolded.
Our eclectic group included myself and Ron, another couple in which the guy is Black and the gal is Jewish, a married lesbian couple, and a friend who is half Black and half Japanese and her partner who is Jewish. Before we ate, I took a moment to reflect on the fact that until recently (historically) all of us risked being killed for being in these relationships. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, all of us have children in multicultural relationships as well. Although we come from quite different backgrounds and cultures, we have many shared interests, one of which is gardening and food production and another of which is nutrition and health.
Around the table we went, sharing the latest events in our lives. One couple had recently traveled to Lithuania for the once-every-four-years Baltic Song Festival held by Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This massive festival of local song and dance, emphasizing national culture and folk music, is a symbol of nationhood for these countries that have fought off Soviet domination. Our friends talked about the crisp delicious beers, the table fifty yards long featuring a variety of rye breads baked according to the customs in regions all over the Baltic, the singers and dancers who performed, singing the sunset in together with thousands and then singing the sunrise up hours later. One of the women who traveled is Lithuanian and she had never been to her land of origin. When they visited the town in which her grandfather grew up, she found a photograph of him hanging in the local museum!
Ron and one of the other men at the table have retired in the past year and some of the friends wanted to know what they do now. The other man who retired joked, “I go to the post office, buy a stamp.” I boasted that Ron has become a professional newspaper-reader. Retirement is a concept. Will I ever get there? One of the friends just landed a new job over the summer. He’s a computer tech. He told us that a person at the company interviewed him and then took him to a computer room and pointed to things and asked him to identify them; like a router and a server. Hilarious. I went on a riff about being asked to identify a chair, a lamp, a file cabinet. After our friend had correctly identified the router and the server, the guy turned to him and offered him the job on the spot. I guess they were in need of someone who could tell his ass from a hole in the ground. Wild.
When I shared a few aspects of my studies to earn my holistic nutrition certification, the whole crew was off and running talking about food, cooking, healthy eating, what makes us sick, and what makes us well. One of our friends had read an article about research that shows that people who live in a close-knit community live longer and stay healthier. I explained a few basic concepts about the detrimental impact of stress on health. It makes sense that people in community feel better because they have a fine resource to help them relieve stress. In fact, they probably have less stress to begin with because of the comfort of living in the embrace of a caring community. We discussed the ways in which we each relieve stress, which prompted our hostess to break out her dark chocolate (four varieties!), woo-hoo.
Our hostess has spent the last few years researching fish farms. She is an extraordinary gardener and she is now interested in developing a sustainable fish farm in her back yard, using the fishy-poo to fertilize her gardens. She has studied what fish eat and how to grow the kind of insects that the kind of fish she wants to farm will eat and how to use fishy-poo as plant food and how to pasteurize straw to grow mushrooms. In the middle of this discussion we adjourned to the yard to see the fish farm she was building back there and to admire her vegetable gardens. She converted a quarter of an acre of lawn into a mini-farm.
Out back, surrounded by brilliant purple and green chard and cabbage, lemon trees, and bright orange nasturtiums on the mini-farm, I fell into conversation with my Black-Japanese friend about what causes cancer and how tenuous our lives are; how important to enjoy and appreciate our friends since the future remains a mystery. We could have swapped stories of irony, stories of miracles, stories of tragedy, inspiration, and beauty for hours and hours. But the shadows of evening began to gather and all of us had our busy lives to return to.
One thing that strikes me about our afternoon is that we didn’t discuss politics much, except as related to the politics of food production. I have so many friends for whom politics are a primary topic of discussion. It was refreshing to go deeper to the things that will really change our lives and make a future, such as sustainable farming. I am convinced that the political world is not where real change will happen. It will happen in our back yards and over our fences and in the heart and the soul.
I’m rambling. Sorry for that. What am I trying to say here? Something about what it means to have plenty, what it means to protect our food supply. Something about friendship. Something about how mysterious and enormous and fascinating is the wide, wide world. Something about the magnificently inquisitive human mind. Something about passion, and learning from each other, and eating real food, and making real food, and sharing real food, and real conversation, and real life. Something about being grateful for bounty. Thanksgiving coming.