How do you define community? I think of it as the connection we have to the people, services, customs, and neighborhoods where we live, work, and play. But to be honest, we take our communities for granted. Or at least I took mine for granted for a long time. In the past 10 years my husband and I have moved four times, spanning thousands of miles across the United States and into Europe. Not counted in those four moves have been shorter stints living abroad studying, doing graduate research, and volunteering in South America, Central America, and Africa, respectively.
But it wasn’t until we moved to Switzerland almost four years ago that I realized how much I’d taken community for granted. Settling into a new country with a strange language and even stranger daily rhythms (Grocery stores closed after 6 pm. Car washes closed on Sundays. Seriously?!), I felt like a fish out of water. I was hit with the reality that I was an outsider; that I no longer had the comfort of feeling that instant “in” only possible when you share a language and an inherent understanding of the nuances of daily life. I started to miss the most mundane daily connections and realized how much I underestimated their worth back home – chatting with the clerk at the grocery store, the friendly waiter at a cafe, or most of all, listening to the farmer at the farmer’s market tell me his stories and helping me find the ripest, most delicious vegetable on offer.
The truth is, with our smart phones and computers today, we are more disconnected from each other than we’ve ever been before, no matter where we live. But since we’ve created this separation, we can also recreate connection. Yes, online social platforms are the “new community”, but this doesn’t cut it for me. We’re social beings. We thrive off of face-to-face communication and being in the presence of people we enjoy. So today I want to share two aspects of community worth nurturing that contribute to our well-being and yes, even our food choices!
Moai is a Japanese word describing a group of women with lifelong friendships who get together regularly. I learned about this concept from The Blue Zones. The author, Dan Buettner, describes an elderly Moai group in Okinawa who has a standing date every afternoon at 3:30 pm.
Many of us fight chronic stress, yet we fail to create and stick with social rituals that help us cope. We get so immersed in our work and family life that we don’t even realize the small, restrictive circle of existence we operate within. We forget about the daily “comfort foods” available outside this inner circle. Moai for these Okinawan women – though it may seem nothing more than small talk and gossip to an outsider - is a culturally ingrained mechanism that helps shed the daily stressors every afternoon at 3:30. This is emotional comfort food that brings us perspective, helps us get out of our own heads, and nourishes us in ways pints of ice cream and chips never can.
Are you part of a Moai? More specifically, who is involved in your daily life beyond your partner, kids, immediate family? If nobody, then I challenge you to create your own Moai, even if it’s just with one other friend.
Living in the US we loved visiting the farms that supplied our weekly CSA produce boxes. Here in St. Gallen, we’ve had the privilege of getting to know Andreas Andermatt of the local Andermatt farm. I purchase his produce at the weekly farmer’s market from Spring through Autumn and visit the shop he keeps open on his farm throughout the winter. Last Autumn he took time to walk us around his fields. He talked about the family farm’s history, of his moving away to study sustainable and organic farming practices, and returning to take over the farm from his father and convert it into organic land.
Eating becomes a more personal experience when we feel connected to where our food comes from and the people who grow it. Food shopping and preparation take on a new meaning; we take care selecting food, we feel proud to bring it home, and we prepare it in a thoughtful way so we can savor it. In effect, we become more excited about the whole food ingredients that make up our meals. I call this the conscious flow: personal connection to food strengthens appreciation for real food which reinforces nourishing food choices. It’s really that simple.
There are many ways we can create personal connections to food:
(Online resources are listed below the recipe.)
- Shop at farmer’s markets - but take time to visit with the farmers and hear what they have to say about their produce and favorite ways to prepare them.
- Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to receive weekly vegetable boxes from local farms.
- Visit pick-your-own produce farms or farms selling grass-fed meat and dairy products.
- Participate in a local Slow Food event.
Community can positively impact our relationship with food, as can the connection we form with our body, mind, and home environment, as previously discussed in the series. Acknowledging these areas as forms of "comfort food" can help fill in the missing pieces of our Whole Nourishment.
Gooey Cherry Chocolate Sponge Cake
Notes: This is an easy but rich and comforting flour-less chocolate cake perfect for Valentine's coming up or any other time dessert is needed. There is something magical that happens when you bake up eggs and chocolate. It creates a soft, fluffy cake exterior with a gooey sponge-like center. Baking it in a water bath keeps the cake moist. (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
- Butter, or coconut oil, for ramekins
- 2 oz. dark chocolate (75% cocoa)
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp. Muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. cherry jam
- Handful frozen cherries, defrosted for topping (optional)
- Vanilla ice cream (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 F/ 176 C. Butter 2 individual 8 oz (4"/10 cm diameter) ramekins. Place into a larger baking dish (mine fit perfectly in a square 8x8"). Set a kettle of water to boil.
- Melt chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler on the stove.
- Separate egg yolks into a medium mixing bowl, reserving whites in a second medium mixing bowl. Whisk yolks, sugar, and salt until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in melted chocolate.
- Use an electric mixer to beat egg whites to soft peaks. Whisk 1/3 of the egg whites into chocolate mixture. Then use a spatula to carefully fold in remaining egg whites.
- Divide batter evenly between the two ramekins. Divid cherry jam evenly between each ramekin, swirling it into the top portion of batter.
- Pour boiling water into larger baking dish in which the ramekins are placed. You want water to come halfway up the side of the ramekins.
- Bake 15 -20 minutes, until cakes are puffed and domed shaped and the middle just barely moves when jiggled. Mine took exactly 15 minutes using convection (fan).
Local Food Resources
Local Harvest: Listing of farmer’s markets, family farms, CSAs, and other sustainably-grown food sources throughout the US.
Slow Food: A global, grassroots organization in over 160 countries that preserves the local food cultures and traditions and counteracts the rise of fast food and fast life. Find a listing of Slow Food partnerships and events in your area.
Eat Wild: Listing of pasture-based farms that sell grass-fed meat and dairy products in the US and Canada.
If this Comfort Food, Redefined series has resonated with you and you’d like to improve these four areas in your own life, let’s talk! I am opening up a few new coaching spots.
Contact me for a free consultation!