Breaking Bread with Anythink Libraries

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Originally printed in the March 2018 issue of SPARK, Anythink's magazine.

Discovering common humanity through food

Bread has been a major staple of the human diet for thousands of years – in fact, consumption of grains can be traced as far back as the Middle Stone Age. And while this simple combination of flour, water, salt and yeast can yield many different styles and types of the food, one thing is certain: bread has played in instrumental role in bringing people together.

With this concept in mind, Maria Mayo, adult guide at Anythink Wright Farms, launched “Community Voices,” an ongoing series that explores the ways in which strangers can explore and share the things that they have in common with one another. To start the series, Mayo turned to food as a means of exploring culture. On Thursday, November 30, 2017, community members gathered to learn about different cultures at “Community Voices: Breaking Bread.”

“In today’s world, you can live a block away from someone for 20 years and never hear that person’s stories,” says Mayo. “Our lives are made up of special moments, and we all have stories to tell. The Community Voices series is an opportunity to share those stories, to laugh with a new friend or neighbor, and to remember that we do have more in common than we think.”

We caught up with some of the Breaking Bread presenters to learn more about the role bread has played in their personal lives and how it can serve a role in celebrating our common humanity.

Neda Kikhia, certified speaker for the Colorado Muslim Speakers Bureau

What did you make for Breaking Bread?

NK: I brought eight types of bread that spanned many Middle Eastern countries, including Libya, Morocco, Iraq and an area once known as El Sham. I also brought cultural pieces of decor from a tablecloth crocheted in a popular and stunning pattern in Libya, to old bread baskets that have now become a token of the past.

What role has that particular food played in your life?

Bread is at the center of almost every Libyan meal. If you’re not using it as a spoon to scoop up some delicious mix of sauces, vegetables or meats, it’s always on hand to wipe up the leftovers or make a sandwich with. There is community around food, and when it comes to a staple like bread, I’ve found that it’s not only a cultural piece, it’s tied into economics, politics, etc. Access to bread and being able to afford it throughout the recent conflicts has shown me a side to bread I wouldn’t have thought twice about if I just passed by the aisle in King Soopers. But to see its worth in a community is a testament to the importance of bread worldwide. I’ve watched community come together around the process of making delicious loaves, and that has been beautiful.

Do you have a specific food memory from childhood?

One of my favorite memories was sitting at the kitchen table in Benghazi and helping my mom sort peeled almonds from those with the light layer of skin. This was such a tiny task, but as the strong women in my family kept me busy, I watched them make some of the most work-intensive meals I’ve ever seen. To watch their hands glide over the vegetables, meats, pots, and pans is a memory I hope to never lose.

In what ways do you think food can help bring people together?

I firmly believe food is at the center of community. What better way to bring strangers together than over food? And what better way to celebrate loved ones than over food? It’s such an intimate setting to be nourishing your body alongside others. And the conversations over meals (while sometimes can be awkward), are so precious when sharing a space and setting like that.

What do you want people to know about your culture and heritage that they might not already?

That being from the Middle East is not a set-back in my life or something to be scared of. I’m extremely proud to be an American and a Libyan, and I’m not apologizing for any part of me. I want people to know that it’s okay to ask questions, as we will all make mistakes with how we phrase things. But as long as people are self-aware of how they show up and are actually going to listen to the stories and answers people give, please ask all the questions! And truly, there is no hospitality like Libyan hospitality when you’re invited into a home.

Julien Renaut, chef at La Belle French Bakery

What did you make for Breaking Bread?

Croissant! I am French – I came to the United States when I was 21 years old. The croissant is a big part of life in France. Everyone eats it.

Do you have any specific food memories?

Throughout high school, I took the bus to go to school. On my way, I was always stopping at the bakery in the morning to get a croissant or a pastry.

In what ways do you think food bring people together?

It’s culture. Sharing a meal with someone from another culture brings you together because you raise a lot of questions and discovery through food. Where you are from and what you eat influences your taste buds. When you taste something enough times, that’s your culture and helps define you. That’s very important, because many people think they don’t like a specific food. But with time, when it’s around you a lot, it’s very progressive – you start to like it. Americans like spicy food. When I came to the United States, even Taco Bell was spicy to me. People were laughing at me for that. Now that I’m used to it, I’ve started to like spicy foods.

What do you hope people experience when they eat?

I want them to experience the authenticity of the French pastry.

Suzanne McGowan, branch manager at Anythink Wright Farms

What did you make for Breaking Bread?

I have Celiac disease, and gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and other flours or grains. I shared two of my favorite types of gluten-free bread – ciabatta rolls with honey butter and a cinnamon raisin bread.

What role has that particular food played in your life?

Growing up in New England with Irish and Italian heritage, bread and pasta were a big part of every meal. We would make little fried dough with honey and sprinkles, struffoli, and stromboli (a stuffed pizza), and share them with neighbors during the holidays. Learning that it was foods like these making me ill was tough to hear. However, I have since learned to experiment and seek out new recipes, and I have slowly replaced many of these foods back into my diet with gluten-free alternatives.

Do you have any specific food memories from childhood?

Yes. Lasagna was a festive meal. My mom would add “little meatballs” to the lasagna sauce, and it was my job to roll the little meatballs. I also would knead the bread dough so that we would have braided bread rolls with our meal. Dipping bread into a red sauce after spending time in the kitchen with my mom preparing the meal is a fond memory.

In what ways do you think food can help bring people together?

As I have travelled to different countries and lived in different regions across the U.S., I love how food and bread specifically is a way to welcome people. When I was visiting Brazil, studying libraries and literacy, we would often be greeted with a platter of pao de queijo. These warm little bites of cheese bread were presented to us as we started a meeting. Looking at common recipes, it’s easy to see that we all eat similar foods, and I like that what we have in common is more significant than how we are different.

What do you hope people experience when they eat the food you prepare?

In our family, we joke that we either cook with love or spite. I hope that people experience the love when I cook, and I’ve learned to call for take-out if I’m concerned I may be cooking with “spite.”  Seriously, though, I try to cook things that people like to eat and take into consideration what is healthy and good for them. And for my family and friends, this is a gesture of love.

Deepali Gaitonde, medical writer and educator

What did you make for Breaking Bread?

Chapati and ladi pav. Chapati are like tortillas – it was a standard thing for me growing up in India for every meal. Ladi pav – pav is the Hindi word for bread – are like dinner rolls.

What role has that particular food played in your life?

Every morning and every evening my mother would make a fresh batch of chapati. It is always made fresh – you don’t buy it at the store and keep it in the fridge. Indian meals start off with a couple of chapatis to be eaten with a gravy-based meat or a vegetable, and then followed by rice. Ladi pav comes from the bakery. Most Indian homes in the city don’t have an oven, so you have to buy it. In the mornings, someone from the bakery would come around on his bicycle with a basket of fresh breads, just baked and wrapped in newspaper. For Indians, food is everything.

In what ways can food help bring people together?

I’m a staunch believer in diversity, and I think that food is one thing that we all have in common. It’s the common denominator: we all eat. Some of us who love to cook, we want to explore. Food is a great way to explore another culture. You can learn a lot about a culture just from their food. Being open to those experiences really enriches your life.

What do you want people to know about Indian culture that they might not know already?

The average American I think has some exposure to Indian culture, but if you don’t know anything, know that Indian people are very warm and open. You could be in India and be lost and people will stop and ask, “How can I help you?” At 2 am in the morning in an emergency you can knock on your neighbor’s door, and they wouldn’t even think it was an inconvenience to them. In India, we have a saying – “Atithi Devo Bhava” or “your guest is God” – so treat your guest like you would treat God. ■

Explore additional Community Voices events.

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