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A salve for a hurting world

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While my fingers beat a sloppy rhythm on the keyboard, my partner keeps time with the tapping of his cleaver, beating out a song of dinner.

White onions, diced into satiny squares. Mushrooms slipped from woody stems and sliced to tender ribbons. Leeks sliced lengthwise, then chopped into crisp and new-green slivers. All of these, he tosses into the frying pan, the deep one I bought when I lived alone and never used too much. The one I found when I was moving all my things out of my old Osborne Village condo, caked with dust. We use it now, often.

 

While the vegetables are sizzling, I flick my phone and open Twitter, scanning headlines that I pegged to read earlier in the day: Gun instructor accidentally shot dead by nine-year-old with Uzi gun. Climate report finds risk of "irreversible" damage to planet. Satellite images show Iraqi Yazidis still stranded on Mount Sinjar.

"Melissa, he keeps trying to hit my kale," my partner says. He glares at our rowdiest cat, who is poised to attack a tiny mountain of green and leafy stems. Then he turns back to his risotto, to his sauce, to all of the bits of fresh living things that he's carefully chopped to heal us.

 

On Tuesday night I sat tapping on my phone, trying to coax out an idea for this column space. The idea obstinately refused to come.

Some ground rules, some qualifications. The idea had to pass the Depression Test ("can't be depressing"), the Knowledge Test ("I have to know at least a little somethin' about it") and the Seriously, This Can't Be Depressing test.

The summer weighed so heavy, right, even for those of us graced by luck and circumstance to watch it pass from a safe remove. There were the shattered streets of Gaza, the rise of ISIS. There was the police occupation that rocked Ferguson, Missouri, and the killing of an unarmed teen named Michael Brown before it. Planes crashed. Robin Williams died. In B.C., a mine tailings spill poisoned a waterway, and a trial for a man who authorities allege is Canada's youngest serial killer.

At home, the drumbeat of grief beat the same: we lost Faron Hall. We mourned Tina Fontaine.

The world seems restless, though it's hard to pinpoint whether things are really worse this year than most, or whether that is just selective perception. Something in how the media spigot now gushes relentless, impossible to avoid and washing us away with it. An addiction, maybe, the way we slip out of dinner dates to check our phones without being spotted. So as not to miss a tragedy, an outrage or a beat -- but my writing aches to get off the treadmill of sad things, if only for a week.

So when my partner came home from work on Wednesday, this is what I say: "I just want to watch you cook, tonight."

Of all the things that two people can center a relationship around, can make a priority, perhaps one of the healthiest is food. You are what you eat, as the saying goes, and what you eat becomes part of you. "A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into," Orwell once wrote, with his customary clear-eyed prose. "The other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards."

So although we are not "foodies," our palates too easily impressed to be real gourmets, my partner and I have long shared food with love. We keep a vegan house: no meat, no dairy, no honey and no eggs. He's the cook, mostly, me the enthusiastic sideline fan. We subscribe to Fresh Option's organic delivery box, so every Thursday we get a Rubbermaid heaped with fragrant things. Together, we gather round and admire each, dreaming savoury futures for a perfect new potato or crisp leaf of kale.

With apologies to Stephen Harper, this too is a sociological issue, this privilege to eat as much and as healthy as we want. The luck of having always known good food more as default than as luxury -- yes, our society entire grounds the health of its relationships through food quality and quantity.

Across so many cultures, there has long been something sacred about a community's food sharers and preparers, and the love inherent in that work serves as some small antidote to the bad news of the days: Winnipeg Harvest, the Christmas Cheer Board. Agape Table in West Broadway, and all the work it does to share sustainable nutrition. There are the good folks at Food Not Bombs, and the tireless Bannock Lady, Althea Guiboche.

There is the Winnipeg FoodShare Co-op, which delivers highly affordable boxes of fresh and often local produce across low-income neighbourhoods. Their Good Food Box is supported by the North End Food Security Network, which facilitates cooking classes using ingredients in the box, as well as grocery store shuttles and other programs to help people grow and keep their own relationship to healthy food. And more, there are so many more.

A salute to them, then, as we navigate a hurting world -- if we have to face it, let us all be able to do so with bodies healthy and bellies full.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 D3

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