food for thought

A SIMPLE MEAL

Musings on a Nicaraguan lunch.

WRITTEN BY JULIANNA BOGGS
PHOTOS BY MIMI GIBOIN

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Edible Sacramento photographer Mimi Giboin recently visited Nicaragua when she volunteered for Visions Global Empowerment. The worldwide nonprofit works to change patterns of inequality by supporting educational initiatives for youths affected by poverty and conflict in Asia, Africa, and Central America. Here, author Julianna Boggs muses on Giboin’s photos of a rustic lunch in the Nicaraguan jungle, provided for the volunteers by one of the partnering farms.

I am hungry and I want food, but rather than stepping into my kitchen, I do something that may be surprising from an evolutionary standpoint: I pull out my smartphone. I browse Pinterest for recipes before deciding I don’t have the ingredients for any of those things, and so my search turns to the outside world. I browse Yelp using the incredibly broad search function “Restaurants near Sacramento, Calif.” and scroll through the ever-lengthening list. It’s not enough that a certain restaurant sounds good — it also must be highly rated, described as “hot and new,” or equipped with delivery service.

My latest copies of Bon Appétit and edible Sacramento magazines are proof of my increasing alienation from the kitchen. I read about food (I even write about food), but the recipe pages stay auspiciously free of food stains, confirming the publications’ existence as little more than au courant coffee-table decorations.

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This sad reality makes an escape to someplace simpler such as relief. Exit the hashtags, plating trends, and brunch lines. Enter a renewed appreciation for hospitality, generosity, and food without pretense.

The tile-roofed, cinderblock kitchen outside rural Matagalpa, Nicaragua, is simple to the extreme, but a few pots and a stack of dry wood are all the busy family requires to prepare the day’s repast. All the food they cook is grown in the garden behind the house, where vegetable beds and fruit trees provide a balance to the dozens of pigs they raise and slaughter each year. Around the kitchen, everything is done according to Doña, the 83-year-old matriarch who keeps a watchful eye on the pots while welcoming her guests.

As Cesar Chavez once said, “The people who give you their food give you their heart.”

Here in the crowded kitchen of the family, even strangers are greeted with an earnest and easygoing kindness, urging them to share what’s being served.

What makes meals such as these so memorably delicious is not their technical execution or great esteem, but the spirit in which they are prepared and presented, which is to say, practically and humbly. Cooks give what they can, and guests graciously accept. It’s refreshing, and real, to enjoy a meal in this way, far from all the trappings of the modern foodie world.

It’s hard to retain this feeling when we return to our busy lives, but the effort allows a similar kind of grounding. Instead of browsing restaurant reviews with anxious indecision, I’ll browse the pantry to see what I have on hand, knowing anything can be helped by a handful of herbs from the patio garden. And when it comes time to eat, the phone goes away. My Instagram feed may be devoid of trending food shots, but my memory is much fuller for it.

Julianna Boggs is a big fan of all the subjects she hated most in elementary school: geography, science, and P.E. She frequently writes about pop culture, food, travel, and language, and can be followed at her blog Juliblogs.wordpress.com.

Resources

For details about Visions Global Empowerment, visit Visionsglobalempowerment.org

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