Today, a break from the norm. A post that isn’t about some new dish I made or an ingredient I’ve recently tried. Instead, today’s post is about how food showed me this week all that is both right and wrong with America. It is not my intent to turn He Can Cook into a political soapbox or to preach about religion or any of the countless other topics that are ripping apart this country. But there are times in one’s journey in life when you are staring directly at it and you just have to share what you see.
So what did I see? A loving potato. Say what? Let me explain. For the better part of my life, I have enjoyed giving back to the community. In college, as Vice President of my fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, I organized a clothing drive that raised over 10,000 pounds of clothing and a food drive that collected over 5,000 pounds of food. In the past few years, I’ve chaired my company’s community service team, planning several local volunteer events, and I’ve spent many hours volunteering my time at organizations like Urban Ministries, Habitat for Humanity and Food Bank. It is the volunteering of one’s time and effort for the benefit of others that demonstrates the care and compassion that most humans have for one another.
This past Tuesday, I spent three hours volunteering at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh.
My time spent was part of an effort made by my company to help local organizations in North Carolina that continue to assist those in need from Hurricanes’ Florence and Michael. I had volunteered before at another chapter of the Food Bank labelling and stacking canned goods, but this week was different. I was assigned to work the food drive collection area alongside a gentleman by the name of Brian, a retired veteran, who volunteers at least once a week.
It was a slow morning for food drive drop-offs which gave me time to observe the countless women and men arriving in their pick-up trucks and Uhauls. They were there to “shop”, to pick up previously donated foods for their local churches, ministries and other charities. Throughout the chilly morning, they rolled in, grabbed a shopping cart and went around grabbing frozen meats, fruits and veggies, and canned and boxed goods. Their laughter was infectious as they joked with one another. It was clear they did this routinely and knew each other well. Then they loaded up their vehicles and went on their way to feed those in need. The display of community, of giving one’s time to a cause much greater than one’s self was so apparent in those moments. In a time with such divisive rhetoric from our politicians, the media, and so many others, here was the real heart and soul of our great country. Working together, leveraging the donation’s of both individuals and community organizations and businesses, to feed so many people less fortunate than the rest of us. It was all that is great about America.
But then I thought to myself, how could this be? How could there be so much need in just this little section of America? After all, isn’t our economy the best it’s ever been, the best in the world? Isn’t there an abundance of jobs now, the lowest unemployment rate in a very long time? The reality is, this isn’t the case for everyone. While some of us are reaping the rewards, so many others are continuing to fall further and further behind. For them, the crisis isn’t at our borders. It’s in our neighborhoods. It’s in our streets. It’s in the homes of so many that are struggling to put a fulfilling and healthy meal on the table for their families. It’s in the soup kitchens and the homeless shelters. This reality is all that is wrong with America.
So what about that potato, you ask? In the midst of feeling this tug of war between seeing the good of people giving of themselves for the benefit of others less fortunate, and the bad of the shear volume of how much need there is, we were reassigned to bag potatoes.
That’s where Brian and I met Shaver, a Jamaican transplant, now US citizen, volunteering on his day off to give back as well. The job was simple, grab about 5 pounds of potatoes, stuff them in a red mesh bag and tie it up. But as we did so, we began to notice these potatoes where special. Alongside some of the most gigantic potatoes I’ve ever seen where many shaped like hearts. It was clear these potatoes were meant to send a message. In a week were a deranged and misguided individual sent pipe bombs to his fellow citizens and media outlets simply because of their political affiliations and beliefs, and another went on a killing rampage in a Jewish synagogue killing peaceful, G*d-loving members of the community, here were three men: a US military veteran, an immigrant and a Jew, standing side-by-side packaging heart-shaped potatoes to feed our less fortunate brothers and sisters in our community.
This is what America is really about. A nation of diverse individuals that come from all over this globe, who practice many different religions or none at all, that stand up for each other, that raise each other up when we are down, that give of ourselves for the betterment of us all. A nation which stands as a beacon of light for those in other parts of the world who need it most. But we are also a nation that is being ripped apart at the seams by our political system, in danger of forgetting these values, and leaving more and more people behind for the good of the few. Just as that heart-shaped potato was a reminder to me of what makes us great, let it be a wake-up call for us all to reflect on America’s core values and to come together once again as one nation to be the best we can be.