Unless you’re a professional chef, most of your cooking happens in your home, behind closed doors. Occasionally friends come over or even rarer, a stranger might tag along with them. You might volunteer to cook for a shelter or a church event now and then, or bring a favorite dish to a potluck or picnic. But mostly our cooking and eating is an intensely private family affair kept inside the confines of our homes. I wonder what would happen if that wasn’t always the case?
Yesterday I was watching one of those flashmob videos that are everywhere these days. They’ve gotten so numerous and popular that I usually don’t bother as one is starting to look a lot like the other. But for some reason this time I decided to watch a popular one called Som Sabadell, which was about making music in a public square. It started out with a single, tuxedoed man playing solo in a town square in Sabadell, Spain and eventually it grew as more and more people joined him, the music swelling and growing with it. It ended with a dramatic full orchestra and chorus, all singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. With the exception of the first player, all the musicians and singers were in casual dress and looked like they had just wandered by and decided to join in.
I was really moved by how something which is usually kept very confined and hidden and formal, something that was usually only available only to those who can pay the price at the door, was suddenly set free. There was a wild, energetic kind of happiness in both the performers and the audience, a kind of a thrill as the walls were torn down and suddenly everyone was a part of the music in a very real, very direct way. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was Ode to Joy.
This naturally made me think about food and cooking (because everything makes me think about food and cooking). I guess the equivalent of the Som Sabadell video would be if a fancy restaurant staged a free meal in a public square or parking lot or at the very least, if a group of friends cooked a spontaneous meal in a public setting and invited whomever wandered by to sit down and eat. But it also got me to thinking about how private our home cooking is and if that’s always a good thing.
Like a lot of modern inventions such as private bedrooms and indoor plumbing, people dining in their own small family units in a private space wasn’t always the case. People used to dine and cook communally, especially in cities and villages where home kitchens were nonexistent or very minimal. And before that, we all shared in the kill when the hunters came home.
I wonder what we have lost by not sharing our meals together, or only doing this in a limited, occasional way. Food is a potent force in our lives: it keeps us alive after all. We’ve all heard many inspiring stories about how the simple act of sharing food has deescalated a violent and fear-driven situation or how enemies have found common ground when cooking and eating together. Even the corporate world understands this kind of bonding when they send groups to cooking classes for team building.
What would be some ways we could open up our kitchens, if in fact we actually want to do that? Hold a soup party on your front stoop and feed anyone who happens by? Organize a monthly potluck in the neighborhood like these people (it’s been going on for over 20 years)? Ask four friends to dinner but have each of them bring someone who is a stranger to the group? Or maybe you could do that flash mob dinner with some friends in a busy public place.
Either way, it might be interesting to think about what would happen if we stepped outside of our four walls and opened up our kitchens to the world. If we shared our cooking in some way that was about our common humanity, that gave our neighbors and strangers alike not only a full belly but a feeling of belonging. If we somehow managed to touch someone we’ve never seen before with a simple meal and even a sense of kinship and plenty. I wonder what would happen then?
(Image: Dana Velden)