By Maria Birch
All sorts of studies show that families are strengthened when they eat together.
We expect that most families be composed of persons related by blood or marriage or a life-commitment.
I belong to a family that has made a commitment to dine together, to eat slowly the food we prepare, to talk and listen to one another, to offer support and encouragement, and to take action.
Every three weeks or so, we gather for a weekday evening meal around someone’s kitchen table. We all want to sit together. No one is shuttled off to the little kids’ table or sits alone in the living room, unless that person so desires.
A recent meal saw a great load of food at the table – timsila (wild turnip) soup with venison harvested by a teenager or his father (they could not agree on that point), beans served with tortillas hand made by a 14-year old boy, Polish sausage and sauerkraut, baked chicken Philly style, fresh parsnip and carrot salad, spicy chicken and beans with rice, whole baked squash, lentils, corn relish, homemade wine, and desserts. I know there were other dishes. I cannot recall them at this moment.
What I do recall is the conversation we had that night. An announcement that one family member has found employment, another was sure an offer was forthcoming. Then began the compliments on the food, talking about how the dish was prepared and promises to email the recipe later.
As we got into the rhythm of the evening, discussion began on the justice and anti-racism work we all engage in – each of us in our own way. Our family varies widely in age and ethnicity. We proudly sport executives, teachers at a facility for juvenile offenders, professors, organic farmers, diversity professionals, physicians, students, house parents at a residential school for Native American students, and several writers. Those are our day jobs. Our lives are about justice and anti-racism work.
Anti-racism work in a reservation border town is not easy work. Some of us find solace in our justice work, based in equal access to healthy food. We talk about eliminating food deserts, promoting the farmers market, working on the area organic farm, starting a community garden, a community kitchen and teaching people to preserve food. In reality, this justice work is to support our anti-racism work.
Our anti-racism work comes in the form of a community theater, the beginning work on an anti-racism organization, and supporting one another as we speak out about the in-grained racism in our community.
We gain more than physical nourishment and strength from the food we eat. We create bonds and are loved and supported by our family members. We can test the water with ideas for actions within the greater community. We can share new resources and information. We can celebrate our achievements.
For the most part, we are not a blood or marriage family. We are a family of commitment. We first met over food. Some of us met at a particular booth at the local farmers market. Others met at the farm of the family that runs the booth. Still others were old friends reconnected while spotting one another on the street or at the farmers market.
We are united and strengthened by our mutual love for good food, good conversation and a commitment to our community – to creating justice, to eliminating racism and to being a family.
Maria is a writer, food activist and anti-racism worker. She lives near the Missouri River in central South Dakota. Her passions are the empowerment of people through education, entrepreneurship and access to good local food. She learned to garden, cook and preserve foods as a youngster, and hopes she never has to give up that lifestyle. Follow her Blooming Radishes Blog.