When I left the last smallholding, Graham gave me a book called “Not on the Label,” by a reporter called Felicity Lawrence. I’ve barely gotten into the book, but this paragraph in the introduction struck me.
Anyone who knows me knows I love to cook. Before I left on my trip I was hosting a women’s breakfast at my house and making food for everyone. I’ve also been known to have random people over for dinner, for making all my food from scratch, canning food and the like. As much as food was and is a creative outlet for me, it becomes little more than that. I still want food to be somewhat easy. I’d gotten into making big batches of food over the weekend to portion out for lunches the rest of the week, and to even eat at dinner time. Walking into the kitchen every night to think about something new to make feels overwhelming to me. Especially when I’m meeting this person for drinks or have this project to complete for some volunteer position I’m a part of. I just want to pull up to the gas station, put the pump in the tank and then drive off. It’s too much to think about.
I know that even with our busy culture, food is still often the center of our social life. Going out for dinner is a common bonding event, as is appetizers or the like. It’s just that sitting down for meals throughout the day with people you share life with is kind of gone. At least in my life as a single 20-something. I’m too busy doing everything else to feel as though all that much mental energy should be spent on thinking about food. And my social groups are large and spread out, and not everyone knows each other, or wants to.
Being here at Phantassie, though, has allowed me to change some of my behaviors and to really experience food in the social way it has been in generations past. There are about seven wwoofers here now, and we have a common eating space called the goddess. So even if you were hoping to sneak in and grab something to eat without seeing people, chances are it’s not going to happen. After work there usually isn’t enough time to make it worth it to jump on the bus and go to the nearest town, and most of us are too tired or too poor to do that very often. So the goddess is where people gather immediately after work, where we play card games and where we eat together. You can’t really avoid the community. And since the German and the Italian have arrived, it is essentially expected that we will all eat together. The same person doesn’t cook every evening, but when someone happens to take charge of cooking, everyone else pitches in by cutting onions or making a salad. Eating is again a group affair. We will eat and then we will maybe make a bonfire and sit around it until late in the evening. Or if it’s raining we will sit in the goddess and play card games or simply talk with one another. I get out a lot less, but I feel a lot less lost and alone and more a part of a community. Thinking about what to make feels a lot less like the stressful hurried “pulling up to the gas tank” and more of an actual important event that deserves thought and attention. It also feels more healthy. There is something true and natural about making food a group event. Something fundamental to who we are, even though we’ve tried to make it something much different.
But I must face the reality that unfortunately our culture doesn’t lend itself to the above situation. The community here at Phantassie kind of likens back to a time when people didn’t have a lot of options of what to do with their evenings. You didn’t have something taking up your time every night because you didn’t have the money or the car or the option. Instead you made dinner with your family or neighbors or probably even your extended family because let’s be honest, they just lived down the street. I wish it were still this way. I wish I didn’t feel so lost sometimes. I wish I had people around me that I knew would be there consistently for simple daily rituals and spending time together. Instead I can picture myself in Denver again, perhaps with housemates, perhaps with not. The people who I might want to eat dinner with have made their own plans already. It’s no longer assumed that we will spend time together. Maybe they are hanging out with someone else, maybe they are going to an interesting event. The daily ritual of food will become, yet again, an inconvenience.