Community

Sharing meals is about more than just the food

To-go meals are prepared May 4 at Pita'z Mediterranean and American Cuisine in Hiawatha. Pita'z has been donating meals
To-go meals are prepared May 4 at Pita’z Mediterranean and American Cuisine in Hiawatha. Pita’z has been donating meals to hospitals and nursing home staff. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

When someone we care about is in pain, our first instinct is often to bring them food. We bring casseroles to the bereaved and chicken soup to soothe the bodies and souls of the sick.

When times are good, too, we want to celebrate them with food. We center the momentous occasions of our lives around bread broken with family around a holiday table, wedding reception dinners, cakes emblazoned with the names of graduates. Even our more everyday socialization is often food-based, whether it be a meal out with friends or a dinner cooked with loved ones at home.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, as so many of us are cut off from the friends and family we would normally share food with, and as a pandemic draws attention to the sick and grieving members of our communities.

On Thursday, The Gazette ran a story interviewing local hospitals about the outpouring of food donations they’ve seen pouring in. They have gotten so many requests from people eager to send food to the front line staff working there that they have to schedule them out to make things manageable. Local restaurants are sending food, some donating it themselves, some filling orders from grateful members of the public.

At a time when we are told the best thing we can do to help in this crisis is to stay home, people still want to show their appreciation in whatever ways they can. For so many of us, sharing food is the best appreciation we can show.

I have also been struck by how central sharing food is to our society as restaurants last week were given the green light to open back up, albeit with social distancing limitations. Some decided to go ahead, after removing tables, installing sanitizing stations and making other adjustments. Others are holding off, in the name of keeping their staff and customers safe.

I am not a public health expert; I can’t tell you if any individual decision is right or wrong. I can tell you that in years of interviewing restaurant owners, I know that almost all of them got into this business because they love to make and share food with others. Every time I talk with an owner or chef about their favorite part of the job, I almost invariably get a variation on the same answer: they love watching someone take that first bite, and smile, and to know what they are doing is feeding bodies and souls.

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If our restaurants love feeding us, we love them back. Covering this topic over the last couple of years has shown me the great enthusiasm this community has for its local restaurants. When a new place opens, people flock to it; when a place announces it is closing, people pour out their condolences in turn.

When shut down orders came, I heard the same concern over and over again: “We can’t lose our restaurants,” people said. “They’re the heart of our town.”

I think people love not just the food these businesses provide, but the community that builds up around them, the memories over the shared meals that happen in places like restaurants.

And so, determined to keep these places alive until this crisis has passed, people began ordering carry out and delivery orders, by the hundreds and even thousands. Some businesses have been so flooded with orders they can’t keep up, even selling out of food on occasion. I see their Facebook posts, filled with gratitude and apologies for those who weren’t able to reach them through constantly busy phone lines. None of these places were set up to be carryout kitchens, but they’ve pivoted, and the community has pivoted with them. They’re feeding us, and we fed them in turn.

I hope, whether we’re ready to eat out again or are staying home, we can all keep that ethos in mind. That we continue to share food out of respect, and love, and support for our community. That those who do go out respect the social distancing guidelines and the safety of those serving them, and that those places that aren’t reopening continue to get economic support from customers, as well as those that are open.

And when this is all over, I can’t wait to see packed dining rooms and raise a toast with all of you again.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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