Friday, September 21, 2012

No Free Lunch

I'm new in town, I work alone, and it's good to get out and interact with real people so I volunteered to help with the free college lunch at church. I have to admit on my walk there, I had a thought along the lines of, I already cook, clean, and feed enough people. I can't believe I signed up for more of the same!

I scrambled in a few minutes late, took a breath, blew out my reservations, and hoped to open up space for the moment. I found the volunteer crew working through a macaroni crisis-- someone had run to the store. Chaos in the kitchen seemed like a promising start.

When a fellow volunteer shared that he had just celebrated his eighty first birthday, I didn't volunteer I had just celebrated my fortieth whatever birthday. Later, he gave me an excellent shopping tip and challenged my knowledge of history.

The volunteers were welcoming and had a good grasp of the tasks to prepare and serve lunch. I poked about the kitchen, offered a suggestion, marveled at their labor saving short cuts, and did what I was asked to do.

The ten burner Garland in the church kitchen was once used to prepare meals for Meals on Wheels, but now finds less intense uses. After my three burners in Japan, I had a little stove top love for this classic.

Tables and chairs were set with silverware and glasses. The sideboard offered coffee, tea, and dessert. Slices of crumbly chocolate bundt cake were laid out on paper napkins. The salad was placed in a bowl on the counter between the kitchen and dining area. When students appeared at the window, we served the plates of macaroni, made from a handwritten recipe with many annotations, as needed to keep it warm. One of the ringleaders encouraged me to grab a plate and eat lunch.

As I entered the dining room, I noted a table of volunteers and students chatting and another table with a lone student. "Do you mind if I join you?" I asked. He nodded, and we fell into conversation about Social Justice issues at the University and energy issues from coal burners to nuclear power. He was taking a class through an organization supported by the fundraiser I had just attended. After his departure, I went for a cup of tea and upon my return found two new students in heavy conversation at the table. At first I was merely sipping tea, but slowly I found myself listening and intrigued. They were discussing the food scene in Athens. I was curious why two college students were discussing the Athens food bubble. Resistance was futile, I asked.

The inspiration stemmed from their study abroad program in Ireland this summer. The Irish are encouraging fish consumption by raising awareness of the variety of fish to eat and the ways to prepare it. Coincidently, my neighbor, a professor, returned from Ireland this summer while I was unpacking boxes. I had recognized his mutual jet lag.

The students shared suggestions with me for exploring the local food scene and kindly welcomed me to their talk.  I moved a seat closer. At one point I said, "There's no free lunch." They grinned. "See you get nosey volunteers who want to chat with you." After exchanging emails, I resumed my volunteer kitchen duties. I'll be back to hang with the over seventy-five and the under twenty-five crowd.

I can't decide if this town is incestuous or hyperconnected? I first heard of hyperconnection as a term to describe a grand wireless network in Norway. However, in the hills of Ohio, it is the web of relationships and people connections that surprise, frighten, and charm me. Incestuous may be too strong-- until I tell you that one of the students had packed the box of crackers I had ordered to be sent to me from a local bakery a year ago. I guess you don't mail a box of crackers to Japan everyday.

10 burner Garland cooking macaroni for the free lunch