Maybe it seems like this has nothing to do with food (I say that about a lot of my posts) but really, I think it is at the core of our current food and cultural crisis.
I had my first pop-by from a neighbour last week.
An elderly lady, Hilda. She has lived on the street for 30+ years, and turns out, her sister lived in my house before that. Over 60 years of memories of this place reside in that lady’s being.
She came by to scope me out, check out the changes to the house, observe my poor home-keeping skills. The place was a disaster; I was mortified.
But I invited her in for tea anyways. She’ll tell her husband what a mess it was . . . but that’s ok. I’ll get her next time.
We chatted for about an hour over tea while the rain belted down outside, her plastic rain bonnet resting on the table and reminding me so much of my Nana it hurt my heart.
We gossiped about the former owner of the house, she told me about the neighbours, the history of my farm. I learned about her family, personal tragedies, troubles and joys. She watched my boy in the particular way folks who have watched over many children do; calm and assessing, knowing.
Thinking about it after she left and in the days since, driving by community halls in my new rural neighbourhood, it occurred to me that these sorts of neighbourly interactions are endangered.
Those opportunities to sit down and chat at the kitchen table with people who aren’t family, who come from a different generation, have wisdom of years and heartbreak, successes and disappointments . . . There is a wealth of knowledge there that we are losing. A wealth of culture, community knowledge, a way of knowing how to be with people different from ourselves.
It is so easy now to find your very own particular tribe.
For me it is rat race drop-outs, stay-at-home mums and homesteaders with university educations and an interest in food security and scratch cooking. That’s a pretty narrow group.
And frankly, they aren’t real connections. (As much as I love you guys!) Chatting online is not a replacement for conversation over tea. You lose the nuance, the complexity of human interaction. There is something about that kind of interaction that is necessary to sustain a soul.
We tuck our elderly away in homes devoid of the laughter of children, send our kids to summer camps, live in adult-only development complexes. Our community centres are less and less focused on the general community, on a cross-pollination of families and ages, and more and more cater to specific classes and age groups. Although I’m not religious, I miss the ritual of heading into church as a child, shaking hands with the greeters like an adult, catching up, feeling warm and welcome and cared-for.
What other knowledge is lost when we lose these connections?
We lose the ability to know when our neighbours need help. We get less opportunity to practice the fine art of sharing; sharing food, sharing troubles, sharing joys, sharing recipes, sharing time. We lose the gift of caring for others, watching over others, being part of something outside ourselves, feeling a part of a community – a true community, one that is varied and joined together not by choice, per se, but by time and place and necessity.
She complained that the previous owner would chat outside on the lawn, but that he never came in for coffee. I could tell that offended her. We have forgotten the fine art of give and take, of reciprocity, of interdependence.
We all like to think of ourselves as independent, autonomous beings and we project that self-view onto the world around us. We do not see ourselves as connected to the world outside our door that sustains us. That lack of connection is how we have allowed such a sorry state of affairs when it comes to what we eat. If we cannot break bread with our neighbours, if we don’t know the names of the people on the street where we live, how on earth can we ever expect to know our food? We cannot fix one without fixing the other.
As for me, I have to go bake some banana bread to take for coffee at Hilda’s.
- The decline of an American institution (economist.com)
- Next Door Strangers – the End of the British Neighbourhood? (prweb.com)
- That’s not so neighbourly (express.co.uk)