Share the joy!

Share the joy

For some time now, I have been interested in the role that preparing and sharing food has played over the centuries in uniting people by providing opportunities for effective communication. We can learn a lot about other countries and their cultures through food – their methods and rituals for preparing and sharing meals. I believe that a harmonious family life often starts at the table. Taking time to prepare a meal can be an act of love or solicitude. Sharing a meal with family, friends or colleagues provides time to talk about the events of the day, school, work, worries, achievements and our relationship with others. If we learn to communicate, from an early age at home, we will communicate better at work, at school and in the wider world – if there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation and if there is order in the nation, there is a greater chance of peace in the world. Perhaps, some might say that I am being too simplistic or optimistic; but I reckon it’s not a bad ethos to have, or place to start, in creating a better world in which to live and bring up our children!

With this in mind, during December 2014, I was privileged to spend a few hours in the company of Aljezur International School’s Portuguese housekeeper, Dona Ilda – a vivacious lady with a wealth of stories and anecdotes to tell about Portugal’s old traditions. I asked her to talk to me about Portuguese cuisine in general and, as we were approaching the festive season, the traditional foods served at Christmas time as I wanted to write an article for my blog site. To my delight, she went a step further and suggested that, together, we prepare a typical meal to be shared with the children and staff of the school. What a treat I had in store! We set a date and then we cooked and we talked and I was enchanted by her tales of how the preparation and sharing of food was so integral to the harmony of community life, especially in poor rural regions, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

Portuguese food is, in general, simple but flavoursome. The yields of the sea and land are plentiful and, therefore, no one has ever had to starve. Dona Ilda told us that, at the end of a hard day’s toil on the land, the workers and their families would join together (sometimes as many as fifty or sixty people), each contributing towards the meal that would be cooked communally over an open fire in large cauldron-like pots. These meals served as soups or stews, would contain a variety of regional and seasonal vegetables, chicken, pork, goat, lamb or rabbit. Fairly copious quantities of locally made wine would also accompany the meal. It was believed to invigorate the body, ward off colds, relax the mind and warm the soul! In days of very old, even the children were sent to school with a tipple of warmed red wine and a chunk of bread to help them on their journey. Christmas called for some dishes a little more special and menus, such as the one we prepared and feasted upon, would often comprise of cod fish and potato cakes, a traditional soup containing cod, a mixed meat and vegetable stew, shellfish and game, rice with black pork chorizo followed by a dessert of creamed rice made with lots of sugar, eggs and vanilla.

If we are fortunate enough to experience the traditions of another country and partake of their hostility, then we are genuinely blessed. Sharing and learning to share is so important to social development. Academic studies have shown that sharing food nurtures altruism within our society; opening the door to a more cohesive and tolerant community. Sharing food makes people think about fairness. For example – Do I get as much as everyone else at the table? Who is being served first? Sometimes, I can’t take as much as I would like to!  Perhaps, we should share meals more often, as families and communities did in days of old. Our burgeoning dependance on communication through mobile phones and social media is potentially destructive to harmonious integration within society. Most of us ‘share’ daily through social media; perhaps we could learn to communicate more effectively and share more across the table. Food for thought!

I left the school ‘family’ and Dona Ilda’s infectiously bubbly company with a warm feeling and high spirits. Aljezur International School is a truly international union of children and teachers from different countries and cultures around the world. The school instills the values of tolerance and respect which underpin harmony and an environment conducive to learning. Mobile phones are banned during the school day and the lunch break is a time for social ‘sharing’. Hallelujah! Share this joy!!

Share the joy

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