Saturday night, I joined a group of UBC international students for their weekly dinner and discussion. I was invited by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship to talk about food, justice and hunger in Vancouver, and to share about our Christian Community Food Network. Since we were talking about food and culture, I invited the students to cook the meal with me. Together, about 25 of us, many whom were inexperienced in a kitchen, made roasted butternut squash soup, baked potatoes with as many toppings as I could think of, and baked apples stuffed with raisins, walnuts and cinnamon. Dinner was delicious, despite a little chaos as we were preparing it, and the momentary fluster I felt when I handed one student a stalk of broccoli, and he looked at me somewhat apologetically and asked, “What do I do? I’ve never washed broccoli before.”
Between dinner and dessert, we talked about food security, and why the definition includes a reference to the importance of culturally appropriate foods. We read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (John 6), and talked about different practices of saying grace. We also talked about why after the crowd had eaten their fill, Jesus asked his disciples to "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted" (v. 12). I learned the word “mottainai,” which is a Japanese term used to convey feelings of regret when anything, even a spoonful of rice, is wasted. We don’t have such a term in English, but I think it captures what Jesus meant when he spoke to his disciples that day. He must have known that we would still be reading that story 2000 years later, and known how much food we would come to waste, and how unnecessarily hungry so many people would be.
The students asked good questions about hunger and malnutrition. I continue to be encouraged by people’s interest in the community meals and food programs in Vancouver. I couldn’t answer the students’ questions about why so many go hungry here, nor could I answer their questions about what Canadian food is, though I did say that the dinner we had cooked was as typically Canadian as I could imagine!