Being in a foreign country can mean missing certain things about home; these things can be small and simple (good peanut butter) or large and complicated (the Great American Dream). One thing that I definitely knew that I would miss was the best American holiday, in my humble opinion: Thanksgiving. I have so many pleasant memories of spending a Thursday in November with my family—sharing turkey, vegetables, muffins, and all sorts of other food (although, to be honest, I mostly eat the muffins). The great thing about Thanksgiving, for me, isn’t necessarily the food (which, to be fair, is totally delicious) but more so the social context that surrounds it. My favorite Thanksgiving memories aren’t about the act of eating, but about preparing and eating food with my family, as well as learning a little more about them. What Thanksgiving does really well is bring people together and enable meaningful conversation.
At the end of October, fellow London JYA-er and “Far and Away” blogger Olivia Harries and I went to a community cooking event, which was a part of the “Talk to Me London” program. The aim of this series of events is to instigate conversations between strangers who may not speak to each other on a day-to-day basis. The program activities included some bus-stop interventions, an event in a library, and several community cooking events, all of which I found to be incredibly effective at starting a dialogue.
The particular event that Olivia and I attended was pumpkin-themed. Generally speaking, food is perhaps one of the most personal mediums. It is deeply tied with memories of family and childhood, but can also differ greatly from culture to culture. Food also structures our daily lives; we must eat to survive. It was great to hear about the foods that people enjoy making at home, and the differences between German foods, Italian foods, West African foods, etc. As a group, we made roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin jam. All of the food that we made together was very tasty, but, like a good Thanksgiving, we found that the best part was more the conversations that we were having with the other people attending the event with us.
Olivia and I found the event very inspiring, and were subsequently interested to see how we could continue to enable dialogue and conversation in New Cross, the community in which Goldsmiths is situated. At the pumpkin event, several of the attendees were curious about Thanksgiving. Olivia and I knew that we would really miss spending the holiday with our family, so we decided to organize a Thanksgiving potluck for the New Cross community at large. We spent a while making posters, hanging them up around the area, and corresponding with various organizations that seek to enable conversation and community through food, most notably Talk to Me SE London and GrowWild. Finally, on the night before Thanksgiving, we had our event at Cafe 178 in New Cross, and we would definitely call it a rousing success. We had about thirty attendees—some of them British, some of them American—and all of the food was absolutely delicious. Some of the foods that were brought would be unexpected at my family’s Thanksgiving table (we’ve never had falafel), but those dishes ended up really adding to the evening. The great multiplicity of cuisines represented made for an evening of great dialogue, thanks to the conversation-starting capabilities of good food:
“What dish did you bring?”
“Oh, I made the cornbread over there.”
“Really? I’ve never had cornbread before.”
“I mean—this isn’t the best cornbread ever. My dad makes the best cornbread; I’m still learning. What did you make?”