Sharing food and conversation binds us.
WRITTEN BY DANI KANDO-KAISER
PHOTOS BY ASHLEE GADD
When are we humans at our best? When we are brave and selfless? Decisive and bold? Compassionate and empathetic? Questioning and thoughtful? None of us could be satisfied with just one of those words, but perhaps we all can agree that we approach our best when we take the time and effort to make and share food with one another.
The act of sharing a meal and conversation is the common thread that has woven us together since our species began. It’s why holiday meals remain so important to us. Beyond the traditional celebrations of harvest and religion, they give us the opportunity to comfort one another and overlook what divides us. And, in these current times of intense questioning about our perceived differences, it is no small gift to be reminded — over a warm bowl of food — that far more connects us than divides us. It’s that thought that brought me to the table with a diverse group of Sacramentans in February to share a meal hosted and prepared by Sarah Thompson, the inimitable founder of the Sacramento Kindness Campaign and owner of Sarah’s Kitchen, a Sacramento-based, healthy-meal delivery service.
I first learned of the Kindness Campaign in the late fall, when I saw a social media post about the Christmas holiday effort to gather food and housewares for struggling families in the Sacramento region. In a wonderful bit of cosmic connection, the following evening, I met the father of one of my son’s friends who had moved his family from Afghanistan two years ago and has been helped immeasurably by the efforts of the campaign. I knew I had to find out more about it and the people involved.
Sarah’s Kitchen already is an exercise in kindness. She makes healthy, delicious meals with many local ingredients. From this service, Thompson has created a wide community network of local farms, religious centers, schools … you name it. People throughout Greater Sacramento have come together to work on the Kindness Campaign.
One cold winter evening, Thompson gathered a few of these people together for the first in what will be a series of meals called The Common Thread. The concept was simple: Ten people with diverse backgrounds came together to talk about their commonalities and how to work together to support Sacramento’s communities. At a large wooden table in the backyard of friends who grow some of the food Thompson uses in her meals, the group enjoyed an outstanding soup made from Thompson’s own sunchokes and caramelized onions, a macaroni and cheese made with creamy bites of local butternut squash, a Provençal-style chicken with Dijon and wilted greens from the local Yisrael Family Urban Farm, and a warm fruit galette.
At the start of this excellent meal, we introduced ourselves. We were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, parents, a recent college graduate, small business owners, an information technology wizard, a wine expert, a professor, farmers, an artist, and more.
This being the first of what we hope will be many more Common Thread meals that will give way to deeper discussions, we focused on what we have in common. We talked about our families and our work. We talked about the beautiful food before us and our favorite places and things to eat. And as the conversation got a little deeper, we were reminded of Thompson’s opening remarks.
“Tonight is about putting aside our differences and talking about what is missing in our communities. Let’s talk about what we can do to put back in those things that are missing,” she said.
People on par
We all found that, even apart from the Kindness Campaign, we are part of larger local efforts that connect and support our communities. Several guests are involved in Compassion Village, a grassroots, privately funded, tiny-home community focused on temporary, interim, and permanent homes for the chronically homeless. Another guest recently had organized the first meeting of the Oak Park Fix It Café, a monthly event at the United Methodist Church, where people can go for warm cups of coffee and fix — or learn to fix — appliances, bicycles, and more. Our group discussed the needs of the café and the best people and places to contact for additional resources. And two other guests were the founders of South Oak Park’s Yisrael Family Urban Farm, who have transformed their property into a garden that not only sustains their own family’s needs, but also provides a space for educational classes and community events around the subject of urban farming.
As the group chased away the evening chill with the last bites of warm dessert, we talked about next steps. In the spirit of giving to those with greater needs, we decided that the next meal should be one in the community, rather than just among our group. Which specific community that might be has not been decided, but the goals will be to cook food together, work to expand the list of invitees to create an even more robust dialogue, and make it a productive conversation.
We left the table with a sense that this was the beginning of a big effort — perhaps a daunting one, but unarguably necessary. What effort could be more important than continuing to find the best in one another?
Dani Kando-Kaiser has written about travel and food for publications throughout the Western U.S. Her top food picks are the Affogato at the Cowgirl Creamery, tacos at L.A.’s Guisados, and the rhubarb pie at Fresno’s Grandmarie’s Chicken Pie Shop.
For details about Sarah Thompson, the Sacramento Kindness Campaign, or Sarah’s Kitchen, visit Sarahs-kitchen.com.