TGIF: Feast, Pray, Love

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Have you ever just wanted to holler “freeze frame” in the middle of a meal?

It’s the moment before you: carve the turkey (freeze frame); blow out the birthday cake candle (freeze frame); or pass around plates of still-warm peach pie (FOR THE LOVE, freeze fraaaame.)

For. One. Fleeting. Moment. Life is luscious. Everyone and everything is lovely and exactly as it should be.

That’s how I usually feel at the table.

feast1

I savor tables full of food, dotted on the edges with loved ones–or soon-to-be-loved ones. Really, it’s the same difference: a table of good food with real talk turns strangers into compadres.

I would’ve been the disciple who yelled “Freeze Frame” at The Last Supper. (I’m thinking, Peter. He seemed unstable like that.) There’s a reason why everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Andy Warhol has taken a stab at painting the most famous and intimate dinner party of all time. Long table? Check. Community? Check. Vulnerability? Feet-washing, hello! A bunch of besties, sold out to a cause, tired, but recharging together? Check. And, trust? Err… that scoundrel Judas excepting: Check.

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I’m a photographer by trade, so every time my little Tourette brain yells “Freeze frame!”, I jump up and take a picture. I was taking pictures of food back in the early nineties, long before bearded hipsters and thirteen year olds with smartphones.

When my husband and I went on our first date in downtown Vancouver, I took a picture of our meal at Acme Cafe. My inner yoda told me Kupa was special. If all went well, this would be the first of many meals to come and it needed to be documented. It seemed a little excessive to ask the harried server to take a picture of us in the middle of the lunch rush. And taking a picture of Kupa seemed presumptuous (read: creepy) for a first date. Taking a picture of our meal, however, was neutral, safe and kind of quirky.

I had a bowl of wild boar soup and a smoked salmon panini. He had a chicken pot pie with salad. Both entrees, incidentally, bore clues to our personalities. Him: classic, comforting, tried and tested. Me: eclectic, curious and a little wild.

I continued to document our meals together throughout the course of our budding relationship. This is how I won the academy award for “Best Valentine’s Day Present EVER”: Love + Lasagne + Lattés, a pictorial tale of our love between morsels. *Takes a bow*

feast2

Through taking pictures of food shared with people I love, I’ve come to learn something about myself.

I’m not interested in food photography; I’m interested in food anthropology. I’m interested in observing food in the context of how it affects and reveals our humanity.

When we attend to a need as primal as hunger, it levels the playing field. It’s hard to be Mr. Big Shot when there’s ketchup glistening in the corner of your mouth; or when you’re trying to suppress a burp after a sip of Coke, or slather a dinner roll with cold, uncooperative butter. (Cold, uncooperative butter! You are the worst.) Every last one of us schmucks can identify with that.

Whether or not we realize it, the table is shared by all of us, meal after meal, day after day. So it makes sense to me that one of the most natural ways we’re inclined to explore a relationship, romantic or otherwise, is over a meal. There’s something about being around a table that helps us drop our guard and reveal the tiniest bit of our primal selves.

This fascinates me.

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So naturally, when I think of our recent SheLoves trip to Uganda, Burundi and Moldova, I think of tables.

High tables, low tables, rectangular tables, oval tables, wood tables and metal tables. Tables dressed in yellow tablecloth and white lilies; tables covered in red and green plaid placemats. Barenaked tables, paint-chipped tables and tables in airports cemented into the ground. Tables covered with so many plates of fruit, meat, bread, tea. Plates on top of plates. So many plates and elbows you can barely see the surface.

feast3 Cherries + Ice Cream + Chocolates + “Smetannik” Cake. Dubceak Residence (Chisinau, Moldova)
feast4Avocados + Mandarin Oranges + Pineapples + Eggs + Toast. Nikondeha Residence (Bujumbura, Burundi)
feast5 Caffè Latte + Fresh Fruit Juice + Chicken Salad + Hummus. Endiro Cafe (Kampala, Uganda)
feast9Caffè Latte + Frozzyccino + Cheesecake galore. Tucano Coffee w/ the Katarangas (Chisinau, Moldova)
feast8 Chicken Shashlik + Salad + Mămăligă + Plăcintă. Beginning of Life (PAS) (Chisinau, Moldova)
feast7Twinnings Earl Grey Tea. “Because any other won’t do.” Rachel Parsons, Cherish (Wakiso District, Uganda)
feast13Tomato Basil Parmesan Puff Pastry Tarts + Beef Stir Fry + Rice. Cherish (Wakiso District, Uganda)
feast6Summer Salsa + Fusilli + Couscous + Beef  Bourguignon. Nikondeha Residence (Bujumbura, Burundi)
feast11Fanta + Coke. Salvator + Francois, Twa friends (Matara, Burundi)
feast10Communion Under The Stars. Amahoro Gathering (Entebbe, Uganda)

I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to break into a sob as we sat around the table on this trip. It felt like I was getting a crash course on life, love and the mysteries of the universe: like I was doing an underground Masters Program and G.O.D. was the Dean of Admissions. (Who, for some insane reason, had ignored my abysmal GRE scores.)

Seated around these tables, it became clear to me why I have so many “freeze frame” moments when I embrace food with others. When the pantry of my life starts to run low on sanity, rest and grace, community strengthens my ability to replenish it. In the loving company of friends, hungers I can and can’t articulate are often coaxed out and fed, removing any impulse to chug, guzzle and gorge on offensive quantities of food.

During this trip, I couldn’t help putting down my fork between bites to drink in the wisdom, wit, courage, and beauty of my friends. My soul was nourished at a level that carbs and calories simply couldn’t measure. I was liberated from the math of food: from the non-fat this and the diet that. Tables of friends who asked BIG questions soothed my aching hungers.

“What are your dreams?” they asked.

“I’ll tell you my story if you tell me yours,” they offered.

“#onewordcheckin’s before dessert,” they said.

On our trip, the gurgle of hunger in my belly after a full morning of activity was always a happy one. My belly was a holy place where secret hungers were tended, instead of a place where my inner Gordon Ramsay yelled expletives at them.

As my friends and I shared details of what we’d seen, heard and lived, my timid hungers rumbled up something fierce.

holy belly

A month ago, my friends Nico and Sarah, who are hustling to start a cafe in Paris, announced the name they’d chosen on Facebook. I nearly fell off my chair with glee when I read the name. “Holy Belly

I’m grateful for friends who honour the inner rumblings of a holy belly.

I crave tables where stories and context are woven like a Lattice pie crust. I want to hear love stories, birth stories, and heartbreak stories that leave my heart mushier than a Burundian avocado. I yearn to hear the truth about racism, civil war, and social orphans from friends who are living it. (While nervously chomping on freshly-picked cherries from their garden.)

I want to feed the true hungers that reside in my “Holy Belly.”

Just this once, I want to feast, pray and love.

feast12

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So, my mushy avocados, are you hungry yet?

  1. What are you hungry for?
  2. Tell me a story about your Holy Belly.
  3. Wanna do a #onewordcheckin after reading this post?

Love you more than Avocado Hummus, (#mindgasm, I know.)

xoxo,
Teen
P.S. I’m heading off to shoot a wedding on Vancouver Island today and won’t have internet access until Monday. Please don’t feel bad if I don’t respond to your messages, comments or tweets until then.

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Tina Francis
My name is Tina. Loved ones call me: Teen. Words are my chocolate. Music, my caramel. Photography, my bread. Girlfriends, my butter. Confession: Some girls dream about Manolo Blahniks or their next Hermes bag. Not me. I dream of freshly baked bread, perfectly barbecued meat & steaming bowls of Pho. My dream lover *cue Mariah Carey song* is someone who would read out a menu to me in Barry White’s baritone voice. I celebrate food, ask for help, interrupt conversations, laugh and cry hard, acknowledge the elephant in most rooms, fight for the underdog and believe in the power of storytelling. I was born and raised in Dubai and currently live in the beautiful city of Vancouver, known for some of the best sushi in the world.
Tina Francis
Tina Francis