“Let me tell you a story,” she’d say. Then she’d serve me a plate of homemade kibbeh and labneh and walk away.
Wait, what’s the story? Gram, what’s the story?!
I thought she was distracted. There was always a lot going on in my grandmother’s house: making ends meet, raising an adult daughter with disabilities, the revolving door of neighbors and aunties and cousins…
It was years later, as I was serving my daughter a plate of kibbeh and labneh, that I realized the story was always right there on the plate: Ingredients scraped together to make family recipes passed down over generations, over continents, over countries, over oceans, in multiple different languages – Arabic, French, English – to arrive in that moment, in my house, on my table, dinner for my daughter on a Tuesday night.
Food brings people together – and so do food stories. They’re powerful like that.
Our food stories conjure feelings, emotions, memories – some of them warm and wonderful like Gram’s busy kitchen, and some of them confounding and painful. Enter: stories of wasted food, of first-world excess that lines rubbish bins instead of stomachs and poisons the planet instead of nourishes people. Or stories of families prioritizing rent and medical bills over groceries, of neighbors struggling to put food on the table, of kids trying to learn while hungry.
In my role at Lovin’ Spoonfuls, I tell food stories for a living. I bring people together to marvel over the fresh fruit, grass-fed meat, dozens of wedges of $13 cheese cleared to make room for more, saved. I turn a spotlight on issues of food justice and food access: from the way hunger disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities to the way the high price of healthy food puts it out of reach for many low- and middle-income people. I elevate stories of those with lived experience of hunger, people for whom healthy food too often feels like a luxury rather than a basic human right – people like John, a combat veteran, whom I met in a pantry line in Jamaica Plain last year who said he wished more people realized he was “worthy of vegetables outside a can.” And I tell stories about food rescue: the way Spoonfuls’ Food Rescue Coordinators and partners have been working tirelessly through a global pandemic, the way this business connects the dots between all that good food and people who need it.
My hope in telling/sharing/elevating stories like these is that it brings people together in their desire to do something with their feelings, too: whether it’s learning more about wasted food, taking some small steps to waste less at home, putting pressure on businesses to lessen their carbon footprint, reaching out to legislators to advance policies aimed at improving access to healthy food, volunteering, giving a gift to Lovin’ Spoonfuls to support food rescue and position us to serve more people in more communities across Massachusetts.
That’s ultimately why I do this work. Because food stories matter. They stick with us like the memory of a favorite kitchen, the smell of a favorite food. And because, like a beloved grandma [or insert your own favorite person here] they have the potential to shape you, to be a force for good.
Joni Kusminsky is Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ Marketing & Communications Director. When she’s not telling food stories, she’s consuming media or tending her “garden,” a small patch of soil outside her home in Worcester County.
Have your own food story to share? Message Joni.
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