Cooking Up a Big Ole Pot of Gratitude
Updated: May 9, 2018
“The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
– Cesar Chavez
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Every once in awhile, we need to remind ourselves to be grateful. Yes, at times life can be rough but it could also be a lot worse. Fact. Sometimes you need to take a step back and reflect on how many things there are to be grateful for, one of them being food.
Do you know how many people in the world are starving? How many people go to bed with their bellies empty? How many families have to chose between eating and paying the bills?
Most of the time my biggest food concern is which restaurant I should go to for dinner or that I bought too many groceries. Quite a stark contrast when you think about it. But why would you? It’s out of sight and therefore out of mind. Only when you are reminded of others’ misfortunes do you actually start to consider just how grateful you are for what you do have.
When I Was a Kid
My mother and I have been part of an organization at our church for several years. We attend monthly meetings and go out on “call” to meet with individuals in need of support. Through parish funding, we provide those less fortunate with non-perishable food items and a voucher to buy fresh items (milk, bread, produce) at their local grocery store. By offering foodstuff donations, clients can use whatever little income they have towards paying bills and other financial necessities.
Since I was eight-years old, my mother used to bring me on calls along with her partner, Tony, to visit individuals in need of a helping hand. People would call the church hotline and then be directed to the St. Vincent de Paul Society inbox. Every week a different team would return the calls and set up a time to deliver food and a voucher at the homes of those in need.
Looking back, I am so grateful that she took me with her, despite the fact that a younger me would have rather been watching cartoons on a Saturday afternoon.
The Day That Changed Me
I remember one day in particular. It was autumn, that time of the year just before the temperature drops, when the leaves on trees are falling and they crunch beneath your feet as you walk. All bundled up in flower-patterned boots, brown corduroy pants, and a puffy purple coat, I sat in the backseat as we drove to visit our last client of the day.
I remember feeling uneasy when we arrived at the apartment building. Old and dingy inside, it looked, quite frankly, like it could be haunted.
We walked down a sparse beige corridor to an elevator. No one made a sound as we travelled up the eight levels to visit Kim. (NOTE: Names have been changed for confidentiality). I remember how Mom, Tony, and I stood waiting in front of a dark blue door with peeling gold numbers painted below a peephole. Quite a change of scenery when you live a life in middle-class suburbia.
Tony, an elderly man with a gentle demeanour, knocked on the door three times before a short woman with long, wavy brown hair answered the door. She wore a yellow apron with a fat white chicken on it, a white t-shirt and jeans sticking out underneath.
Kim was a single mother with three kids. She lost her job due to budget cuts, which eventually led her into a bout of depression. She was now in school again, trying to make a better life for herself, but struggled to feed her family in doing so.
“Hi, sorry, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting,” she began. “I was just in the kitchen.”
We stood in the doorway of her little two-bedroom apartment, nodding in acceptance. The smell of something sweet filled the air. I recall breathing in the scents of cinnamon and brown sugar, wondering what confection flavoured the air.
After engaging in more small talk, we handed her several bags of food. Holding out her hands, she began to weep.
I remember filling the contents of the bags earlier. Kraft dinner, cans of chicken noodle soup, dried pasta, a jar of peanut butter, a box of cornflakes, and a cake mix. Nothing special, so why was she crying?
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” She exclaimed, pulling Tony into a hug, struggling to catch her breath between wails of gratitude.
“Don't think twice about it, honey.” My mother patted Kim on the shoulder and continued, “It’s what we’re here for.” I watched as my mom’s eyes turned red. It looked as if she might cry too.
“Please, come in," she pleaded. "I’m making cookies with the kids!”
Declining, we suggested perhaps another time. Her large brown eyes sympathetic as she nodded. Kim looked so genuinely grateful that it was truly moving.
“Okay, I will hold you to it. I’m an excellent baker!” She chuckled.
“I’m always inventing new recipes with what little I have.”
Kim smiled wide, exposing her pearly teeth. Watching her get so excited, I could not help but grin. She kneeled down to me and grabbed my chin. “What a sweet girl you are coming along. I want to thank you, as well. You have done a very kind thing.”
I felt my cheeks turn rosy as I smiled at Kim. With a hug, she thanked us again, leaving us to head back towards the rickety elevator.
On the car ride home, I thought a lot about Kim. I thought about how nice she was, but how her home was anything but. I thought about how her kids looked so happy as they sat on the floor by her feet with nothing to play with, except each other. I thought about how grateful she was, and I thought about the part I played.
But most of all, I thought about how lucky I was to have cookies whenever I wanted and not have to worry that there wouldn’t be enough for everyone to eat.
Several years later, my mom and I are now St. Vincent de Paul partners.
We make our monthly calls and feel happiness overcome us whenever we meet someone who is genuinely thankful.
Our efforts have become more than simply volunteering; these people and their struggles have become our struggles. We deliver food but we also lend a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and support when everyone else has turned away.
Doing better with each passing day, sometimes we see Kim around the community and stop to chat about work, her kids, and recipes. After all, sharing is one of the greatest things we can do as humans.
Sharing → Intense Experience
So, why do we do share?
On the surface, we share because it makes us appear to be good people. It’s a “fake-it-’til-you-make-it” tactic.
The follow up effect is that you start to feel good about your kind actions. As individuals we want to be close to others; we want to create connections. We do this through creating trust and loyalty via sharing.
Though I didn’t have dinner with Kim and her family, food was still able to link us together. She wanted to welcome and thank us with her cooking. Her gratitude for receiving assistance inspired me to continue making a change within my community based on her complete thankfulness.
Likewise, it gave me a new perspective on food sustainability and what we can do within our world to help give others the basic need of food and the joy that surrounds the culinary process.
How can we turn our superficial actions into authentic sentiments?
According to Positive Psychology Program, one of the best ways to show gratitude is through sharing. Other ways include writing a thank you note, journaling, and meditating. By taking some time out of your day to help someone else, you pass on the gratitude too. You can:
Volunteer at your local soup kitchen
Make a donation to a local charity that helps fight hunger
Volunteer your services to organize items at a food bank
Reduce your own food waste
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Be mindful the next time you take a bite of something tasty. Think about how you can show gratitude for what you are able to enjoy and pay it forward!