A number of high school kids and I planted a pear tree in the Kresge Organic Garden last weekend, during our visit to Santa Cruz. The tree will grow fruit, in a number of years. And we who planted were welcomed to come and eat the pears upon our return, whenever that might be. Of course, the gardeners said, the fruit would be ours to pick and eat! Though there was no database to track our participation, nor any document detailing our due recognition.
Last week, I invited my new roommates to join a few friends of mine, who had come to our apartment for a potluck dinner. As my frittata was pulled from the oven, bulging with spinach and goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes…they hesitated to sit at the table we’d already piled with breads and cheeses and plates of roasted squash. “How much would we owe you?” they asked. The phrase echoed somewhere hollow in my ribs, and has done so since in my dreams, to be honest. I said “Nothing!” and that it was just a dinner, to be shared. If they really felt guilty about it, they could cook dinner for me sometime (!). I tried to put my rationale into words: As far as I’m concerned, we all save money by using it for each other. And the money spent…is spent well. But the two girls with whom I now live sheepishly made their own dinners, and retreated to their rooms to eat. The idea was too foreign. They do not “share” food in the house. Each of us has our own quarter of the fridge, and our own cabinet. And the concept of shaking this system with a shared meal seemed simply too complicated. We wouldn’t be able to mark it up on the “money owed” whiteboard, along with the rent and utilities.
This Wednesday, I was invited over to an apartment for dinner with some kids I have only just met. We made pizzas together. By the dozen. Margarita classic, bitter greens with lemon and ricotta, sautéed mushrooms with pancetta, potatoes sliced thin with garlic and spinach. When Bekah and I arrived, there was a plate of foods to eat right away – sliced salami and cheeses, sautéed beets, and fresh bread. There was more than we could finish before leaving, three hours later, five hours after the eclipse had begun. The party had gathered to watch the eclipse. And my senses gathered to relish the evening. We typed stories on Ryan’s typewriter, washed the pizza down with wine, exchanged numbers, and breathed in the cool air from the window while our bodies baked in the oven’s company. We talked about cheese for the most part, for that is how we met. And let it be known: the Cowgirl Creamery Staff and the Saxelby Cheesemongers’ Apprentice have made friends. The night filled that hollow space in my ribs, quieting the echoing question, reminding me what it meant to know that nothing was owed.
Back in the Kresge Garden, in Santa Cruz, we recognized that we were sharing in the making of something that would give back to us, no monetary values assigned. When we cook and eat with other people, we take part in a something quite removed from the price of the ingredients.
My friends and I get a lot of our food through our jobs at restaurants, our friends at farms and bakeries, our plots in gardens, or on the (well-stocked) streets where we know to look. We couldn’t ever afford it, really (though we’re working on bringing down those prices), so we find a way to distribute and exchange among each other. Until now, I hadn’t recognized what comes of lifting food away from the monetary value it might otherwise be assigned, and making it something to be shared, freely. It’s hard to describe… You forget where your pockets are. And use your hands more. Some part of your soul is more full. Life is better. It feels wonderful, to share what one has, and to have others share with you.
There are a lot of points to be made here, but I’ll stick with the simplest one, for clarity’s sake: If you haven’t made dinner with your friends in a while (or ever), I encourage you to get to it. Don’t ask them to pay you back. (Ask them to bring wine.) Find a garden to grow the food if you don’t have the money to buy it. I promise, whatever you spend, you’ll be paid back many times over.