This week several prominent citizens in Toronto tried to live on a “welfare diet”, eating only the supplies provided by a foodbank for the week. One of them was Michael MacMillan former CEO of Alliance Atlantis Films. The interview with him in the Globe and Mail included a picture of him in the beautiful, impeccably equipped kitchen of his home. He talked about how he thought that since he is a good cook he could do some interesting things with the food he was given, but he found the whole thing to be a difficult experience. He missed the fresh fruits and vegetables that are normally staples for him, and he missed the social aspects of dining with friends. I appreciated his candid reflection on himself – “I should have known better.”
Food seems to have been one of the themes of the week. On Monday night a wonderful event organized by the Toronto United Church Council was held to raise money for the 40 Oaks social housing initiative at Regent Park and to honour the outstanding social justice leadership of two fine people, David MacDonald and Cathy Crowe. In Cathy’s speech, she drew on her experience as a street nurse, and talked about recent program changes in Ontario which have cut out funding for “special diets” for those on welfare with medical needs, and described her experience (fruitless!) in calling the government’s EatRight hotline and asking the dietician on call about how to eat properly on the menu affordable under social assistance.
Later in the week, my boss, back from the trip to Haiti with several other colleagues, accompanying our Methodist partners there in the aftermath of the earthquake, was telling us about the difficult circumstances they witnessed there. I asked him about what they ate. He confirmed that although some meals were different than they would have had at home, they received genuine hospitality at the Methodist Guest House, knowing that they were eating better at each meal than many Haitians eat in a day, they felt both grateful and awkward.
Such dichotomies always exist in our world, but most of us do not regularly recognize that.
Then there was a lovely article in the Globe and Mail about a school in Toronto where the grade 6 students had been reading The Breadwinner series of novels, which are set in Afghanistan. Bread was a staple food for the people in the stories, and teachers and parents had organized a breadmaking session for the kids, to help “bring the tales to life”. The article includes a recipe for nan-i-Afghani, which I want to try. Most of the students had not made bread of any kind before. The volunteer chef (Michael Smith) who led this exercise commented that, “It showed us how universal the bonds of humanity are when we pause and enjoy a simple meal together. In Canada and Afghanistan.”
I suppose the Afghan bread that those grade 6 students made was probably similar to the bread that Jesus shared with his disciples in that Passover meal that we remember regularly when we celebrate communion together. Universal bonds in a simple meal.
May we give thanks for the blessings of our daily bread, and may our faith feed and sustain us always.