Community, Community Building, Community Development

Carbs, Garbs, and Barbs: Cooking and Community Building

There is no such thing as a dichotomy. We are noble, spiritual beings, and everything in our lives is meant to help us reach our full capacity. This is why we should challenge ourselves to understand how the various pieces of our life fit together as part of one seamless whole, rather than separate parts that live side by side.

Women are unfortunately judged for the body that we don’t have. You know the one I’m talking about: the firm, flexible, thin and toned body that graces every magazine cover. Objectively, we know what the process behind creating those images is, and we know that looking like that either takes some excellent genes or a lifestyle that many of us cannot afford, either because of a lack of time, or a lack of finances. We also know how enhanced these looks are, through makeup, lighting, the use of special lenses, and, of course, digital manipulation.  But subjectively, many of us kind of want to look like that.

Needless to say, the relationship we have with that perfect, impossible to attain body is a complex one, affecting our relationship with exercise and dieting. These two normal parts of a healthy lifestyle which should be a source of pleasure become instead a bit of a burden. If we eat too many carbs, we won’t fit into the garbs of the size we want to fit in, only to be subjected to many a barb, imagined or real.

This is a very sad state of affairs, mainly because exercise and dieting can be a wonderfully satisfying part of a healthy lifestyle. On a side note, it must be specified that by diet, I mean paying attention to what one eats so as to have good blood pressure, good cholesterol, etc, and not restricting the amount of food one eats for the sake of losing weight. Similarly, by exercising I mean partaking in an enjoyable physical activity that makes one feel energised and happy, not over-exhausting oneself only for the sake of, again, losing weight.

There are so many reasons why exercise and dieting should be a part of a healthy lifestyle, and not just because of its obvious benefits. Many of these benefits are personal, such as developing discipline. But some of them can also benefit the community. For example, when one makes the effort to cook at home with those one lives with, it helps increase the strength of the bonds between the family (or the flatmates). One can invite people over for supper, which can be participatory (pot-luck); one can even invite people over to cook. These all create great opportunities to discuss issues revolving around food, from its benefits to one’s health to the injustices permeating the current food industry.  It also creates great opportunities to develop strong and meaningful friendships.

At the time I first drafted this post, I has been filling my house with people. In the three weeks prior, I had had some 40 people over at different times.  I noticed that even with those with whom I am already good friends, something changes for the better after I willingly open my home to them. And since one of my main passions is community-building, one can easily understand why I have been collecting recipes for so long.

Another thing I did, which long time readers of my blog will not be surprised by, is watching TED talks about the topic. One in particular tickled my fancy: Jamie Oliver’s passion for the cause of better nutrition is infectious. But just as I was about to rededicate my life to it, I remembered a sobering fact: there are thousands of causes worth fighting for. So I put down the phone – I was about to call my boss and quit (OK, maybe that’s a mild exaggeration right there) – and instead, I decided to see what I could do in my day to day life to make food, a vital part of my life, contribute to my efforts to build a community.

I know how to cook. I’m no Jamie Oliver, but I can whip up simple and tasty dishes easily and quickly. I also am involved in community building at the grassroots. I cooked for all of the abovementioned forty people, many of whom do not know how to do so themselves. And a couple of times, I cooked alongside someone who had never made anything more complex than Kraft dinner.

I soon realised that I had the answer before me all along. I had been subconsciously coherent, in that my cooking was already helping the community building process I was involved in. At the simplest level, the fact that I was cooking for all these people made them feel welcome in my home. And at a level that is slightly more complex, I had been helping friends who do not know how to cook to learn this important skill. I’m sure that what I have been doing is nowhere near what I could do, but it’s definitely a great beginning. The first steps had been taken subconsciously, and now, consciously aware of the potential that cooking has in community building, I can take more steps to integrate the two. For example, I can cook with different people, both novices and experts, increasing bonds of friendship and skills at the same time.

But perhaps even when I am not cooking, I can help make eating a community-building experience. I can contribute to making each occasion involving food a festive, elevated and joyful one, from the planning phase to cleaning up after; instilling everything that has to do with food with the same joy that can be found in other aspects of community building. It’s also a fair thing I can do, since the same person bearing the burden of feeding is not really just. And also talk – reflect – consult with others about this process in the hopes of generating learning and creating a positive mindset about food.

And, seeing the importance that dieting has on both personal and community development, I refuse to let that impossible female body ruin the potential food has to better myself and the community in which I live.

Move over, Barbie, make way for an Easy Bake Oven.

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14 thoughts on “Carbs, Garbs, and Barbs: Cooking and Community Building

  1. There are so many layers of building a community and I love that you are bringing up food and meals as part of it because it’s easy to forget about vital it is for your relationship with yourself and your relationship with the people around you to have meals together where you are able to enjoy food for what it is – fuel for your body – but also a time to share moments and memories together around something that is so vital for us as human beings, eating!!

    I think developing a healthy relationship with food has many layers, it starts from within, and taking time to cook, or cooking with someone or FOR someone, that relationship with change and evolve and it doesn’t become something so ‘forbidden’ and restrictive.

    I need to check out the Jamie Oliver Ted Talk!! I love what he’s doing.

    1. Thank you for sharing! Jamie Oliver is indeed doing some great things — he also has a few interviews well worth checking out! Thankfully they are all on YouTube!

  2. Food is such a vital part of community. There’s something primal that happens when we break bread together.

    I’ve been thinking about that a lot, which is one reason I’m so excited to join a potluck next month in which people in my community and refugees who have recently settled here will get together and share home-cooked dishes. I am so excited to chat with people, learn about their journeys and bond over a shared meal.

  3. I love cooking for friends and feeding people. I agree that it promotes a sense of community. There are some people that you plan your time together so you don’t have to eat and then there are your friends who you plan your whole day together around what you will be eating and feeding your families.

    1. You’re right, Jamie, and the two are quite different one from the other! I personally much prefer the friends I can cook with — it’s just a whole other layer of fun and intimacy!

  4. Food and community are so important! We certainly overthink it and the advertisers are definitely not helping. So lovely to be able to help people and bring people together. Jamie Oliver is passionate and inspiring about life and food.

  5. After living in West Africa for 2 years, I truly learned how eating a meal was building a community. We ate around one big platter off of the same dish with our hands with the locals. Our 4 year old thought it was very fun!;)

  6. Food has such a central place in my family’s life. It’s lovely to build a community around respecting the bodies we have while being as healthy as we can manage.

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