In Appalachia, as in the rest of the world, breaking bread with one another is an opportunity for us to fellowship and maintain our sense of community. Also in Appalachia, as in the rest of the world, that opportunity is being lost amidst an abundance of modern conveniences.
Many of us eat dinner at restaurants or pick up lunch at the drive-through once or several times a week. Microwaveable frozen entrees and shelf-stable foods supplement our fast food diets. Certainly I’m guilty of this.
In the name of convenience, we spend little time preparing meals and even less time sharing those meals with our families and friends. Many of the traditional food-centered gatherings and processes are becoming extinct in everyday practice, some demonstrated only at museums or historical sites.
It seems to me that some of my most cherished memories concern my family communing around food. We all got up in the dark on cold spring mornings to plant potatoes. In warm weather, I accompanied my mother and grandmother when they picked wild greens, raspberries, and blackberries, all of us wary of snakes slithering through the weeds and brush.
In high summer, we sat on the back porch and stitched together green beans with needles and thread, preparing them to be shuck beans. Everybody pitched in to carry baskets and boxes of vegetables, wash jars, and watch the fire as we canned food harvested from the garden. Granny and Mom canned tomatoes, soup, pickle relish, beets, and just about anything else that would taste good when snow started to fly.
As summer faded into fall, we plundered our old apple trees, noses wrinkling at the vinegary smell of fallen fruit. Autumn was a time to make apple butter and kill hogs.
Each of us had played a part in ensuring the well-being of our family and friends for another season.
In all of those events, there was a sense of communal or family accomplishment. Each person had a job (even if it was just staying out of the way—my role on hog-killing days). At the end of the day, we all went to bed tired, but satisfied that the cellar shelves were packed with jars gleaming like jewels, happy that slabs of pork were heavily salted and preserved for later use, content that the freezers were full of meat, fruit, and vegetables. Each of us had played a part in ensuring the well-being of our family and friends for another season.
Today we rush through the grocery store or big-box retail giant and grab our favorite packaged foods. We think we don’t have time to put thought or love into our meals, nor do we make the time to share meals with each other. Many of us sit in front of the television at dinnertime (guilty), consuming our food without tasting it, wasting the opportunity to relish time with loved ones. It seems that we come together to share food only at special times, such as funerals, weddings, church events, holidays, or festivals.
Perhaps if we look at every chance to share a meal as a special time, we might find our family bonds strengthened. Perhaps if we forsake convenience for a chance to fellowship, we might reinforce our community ties. Food is an aspect of our lives that is not Appalachian-centric, but universal. It presents us the opportunity to restore kinship with one another.
Based on an article I wrote for The Coalfield Progress in 2006.