One of the hidden characteristics of food is that it is a conveyer of much more than bulk and nutrition. Secret and not so secret messages are served with food all the time.
Here, eat this: I love you. I care.
Here, eat this: I am grateful to you, I am obligated to you, I am happy for you, I am proud of you, I am scared of you, I want to control you, I want to know you.
Here, eat this: We share this culture, this celebration, this family, this memory, these hopes and fears.
Here, eat this: feel better.
Here, eat this: this is who I am.
Here, eat this: we are not so different.
I was inspired to start thinking in this direction after reading a short essay from the poet Naomi Shihab Nye. In the essay, she describes hearing an announcement in a Texas airport for someone who speaks Arabic to come to Gate 4A immediately. As she writes: "Well--one pauses these days. Gate 4A was my own gate. I went there."
After helping to calm a distressed Palestinian woman who had misunderstood her delayed flight to be cancelled, a warm friendship emerges and then expands to include many of the people waiting with them at gate 4A. A special middle eastern cookie called mamool is brought out and shared. Soon everyone around them is smiling and covered with the same powdered sugar. She concludes: "And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world."
I see and hear and feel around me a new sense of hope that we can start to share the world again. That we can begin again the hard work of discovering just how that is done. Clearly, it's not a simple process. Clearly it won't happen overnight. And clearly, we yearn for this, deeply. We know that if we can't do this, if we can't learn how to live together, then we're all quite literally doomed.
And so my wish for you is that someday you'll be sitting in an airport and someone will offer you a momool cookie. And that you'll say 'yes, thank you' and you'll eat it and experience whatever it is appropriate for you to experience: delight, connection, discovery, gratitude, strangeness and fear, curiosity. But whatever you're feeling, I hope you'll eat the cookie and participate with everyone in the possibility of a shared world. If it's not you, then who?
Here is the full (short) essay Gate 4-A by Naomi Shihab Nye. Thanks, Naomi!
Here is a mamool recipe by Katie at Little Spatula, who also took the photograph of the mamools in the oven at the beginning of this post. Thanks, Katie!
The photo to the left was taken by me on Saturday in downtown SF, just after a Prop 8 protest.