Judgy-pants and Food

Writing is harder than I anticipated. In my head, I have lots of ideas floating around vying for attention and wanted to be put permanently into paper, so to speak. Especially food ideas. It’s an every day occurrence, but it is not an everyday occurrence to sit down and write them. There is a book that I flitted over from my kindle unlimited, which, if you have kindle unlimited and you’re a voracious reader, those two are not synonymous. It’s mostly a wasteland of books, or so I have found. Back to topic…there was a book I briefly attempted to read that was a fantasy type in London where people had magic, but the point is, there was a “word weaver” who could put thoughts to paper with the slightest thought.

This is obviously not the case if judged by the prolonged absences between my posts.

I am not made of magic.

Shocking revelation.

It feels a chaotic time at this moment in history, at work, in life. Those feelings of chaos seem to carry-over into each sphere of life. How does one remove that chaos? I suppose something cathartic like writing can help, but I do think that chaos is often removed by finding something shared with others. For me, in recent years, that has been food.  It’s a true joy for me to cook all day and share the output of that all day activity with other people and see it disappear in under an hour.

This last week saw the next iteration of my volunteer cooking gig. I’m not even sure how to describe it, it started out being the idea of a cooking class to help transitioning people. But it’s not, really. It’s evolved in the short time it has been together and it is really making me face the reality of what homelessness is and how it’s caused, who it impacts. If you’re curious, it’s everyone, somehow.

My first iteration was “How to create yummy foods that last a long time and don’t break the bank!”

My next iteration was “Work with what you have and the reality of using food banks very little money for groceries.”

After my second class it became obvious that it’s not even about food anymore. It is in that we make something, and show them some steps of how to make it, and then share it afterwards.

The first week we had over 8 people in our class, hanging out, watching us cook a bunch of egg dishes and having breakfast burritos at the end of it. There was a spectrum of personalities, some were coherent and others were not.  They were having fun eating our little dishes as we went along but there wasn’t much of an interest in helping cook or participating beyond spectating.

This week we had two people and it couldn’t have been more dissimilar to the first week. Both of our participants were there our first week, but this time they wanted to help. They wanted to dive in and cook our dish, shepherds pie, and be part of the entire process. It was odd because by the end it didn’t even feel like I had done anything, rather watching people cook and directing a step here or there. It felt like a relaxing couple of hours hanging out with some strangers talking food.

Lets talk about Pete.

We made shepherds pie on Tuesday because he had requested it in our first class. At the end of the first day we asked what they wanted to make so we could build the experience around them. He wanted stuffed peppers and shepherds pie. So the next class was born.

I’ve made shepherds pie tons of times, so I knew that this would be a great dish for someone, who is limited in budget and cooking experience, to make.  Pete started opening up, though, while we were cooking. Side note – To make shepherds pie you need mashed potatoes, I usually make mine without peeling the potatoes, I like more home-style for my mash. These boys weren’t having that though, they definitely wanted peeled potatoes. They raced to their rooms to get their peelers and set to peeling potatoes. Along with the stories of peeling potatoes when they were younger in their families that peeling potatoes was a requirement.  Pete, though, was our topic, so lets get back to him.

I try to withhold judgement in my life, but I’ve struggled with that a bit due to my own personal background.  While I myself have not had issues, my immediate family has had issues with law enforcement and have spent many years in prison or jail. Personal experiences impact how you view certain aspects of people, and Pete started talking about his background and how part of it was in prison.

It made me wonder if I would have a problem with judgement and boundaries.

He had problems with drugs and is still going through treatment, and he’s been in prison, while he didn’t specify the reason, he alluded to his past with drugs. But here was a guy who seemed invested in helping us cook and clean and being every bit involved in this process. He talked about his Filipino background and some of the dishes he grew up on, and how hard they are to find in Seattle, and baking, which is my current project, he knows how to bake. He took a class on baking, so we talked about what was needed for a successful yeast bread.

My focus here is food, and the focus of my blog is a shared dialect, and that is where I can talk to Pete. I can’t speak to drugs as I have never had that problem, nor have I had the experience of homelessness or being in prison. But what he and I found out that day is that we both love food. Empathy should be something I embody no matter what a person’s lot in life is or what they did or where they end up. Our choices lead us in directions we can’t anticipate, just as his did. I’m sure he didn’t grow up thinking that he wanted to go to prison or end up homeless. Nobody says “I’m going to have a drug problem!” either. But life happens, and I’ve been fortunate the direction my life happened.

It’s my hope that I can create a safe space for these guys, and whether my class is 8 or 2 or 20, that they feel they can be themselves and they can carry in baggage of most varieties and feel they can be themselves for a couple hours while eating tasty food. I suppose that ties it back to what I mentioned earlier, that cooking all day for the joy of having people eat your food in less than an hour, extends to this. I want them to feel the joy I feel when cooking a meal, and if it means they are the ones eating it and not cooking it, so be it. They are not less because of what they have experienced, we are not more for not being where they are.

Next up, we’re making cupcakes and decorating them for Easter and probably dyeing a few eggs as well.

But after that we’re going to make chicken adobo just for Pete.

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment….

***Also, if you’re wondering why I am not posting pictures of these experiences, it’s because I do not know how comfortable my students would be and I want to respect their privacy.







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