How Food For All Dinner Club Nurtured Friendships and Healthful Good Vibes
By Cari Griffith
As an introvert, the thought of spending four nights a week in someone’s home with over 25 friends and neighbors seemed daunting and exhausting. I knew several people involved, including Katie Taylor, another Validity contributor, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a try.
After five years of wonderful meals, meaningful conversation and support, and a whole lot of laughs, it turned out to be one of the most
rewarding experiences of my life. Food For All, a dinner co-op in Jackson, Tennessee, was founded around the idea that food is best when shared, and true community is fostered when people are willing to make others a part of their daily routines.
Around 25 people, plus more than a few children, made a commitment to share dinner together at a different family’s house four nights a week. The schedule is on a six week rotation, which requires each group to cook for everyone three times every six weeks. The wheels of Food For All are kept turning by the organizational skills, dreams and gumption of Lisa Garner. Through her creativity, hard work and dedication to her neighbors, she helped lay the groundwork for the community and acts as an administrator of sorts to keep things functioning. The group has grown and changed with the inevitable ebb and flow of a college town, so there are always sad good-byes and new beginnings around every corner. But that doesn’t change the ethos of the mission to share meals together. With each new addition, the community shifts towards welcoming them in their own way.
It’s a beautiful model for fellowship, but also a very sustainable model for healthy living. The meals we shared together weren’t your standard southern casseroles with a heaping side of canned green beans. We all had a similar commitment to wholesome, filling and vibrant food, each preparing meals in our own way.
We had meals that rivaled the best restaurants in town, because, in my completely biased opinion, we had some of the best home cooks in the whole city. Beth can effortlessly whip up a pasta dish that will always comfort your soul. Anna’s Indian night is not a day you want to miss, and you definitely always made sure you were around for Keely and Aaron’s crepe night. The first Brussels sprout I ever tried was at Lisa’s house and my life was changed for the better. Each family had their own unique meals that became crowd favorites, and I can vividly imagine the delight we had in eating what our friends had prepared. Many of the healthy recipes my husband and I make every day came from meals we shared at Food For All.
Once my husband and I moved to Nashville, I realized how much having those four meals to rely on each week saved us both financially and nutritionally. Creating a full, healthy meal for only two people turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. When you grow accustomed to cooking for 25, scaling down is harder than the initial challenge of cooking for a crowd. Being a part of Food For All for those five years has made hospitality the posture of our lives. Why cook for two when you can invite friends and neighbors and share the bounty?
It has taken away the sense of personal privacy that is increasingly prevalent in our society. With fences, security systems, privacy blinds and deadbolts being crucial to the protection of our homes, it often results in a sort of protective environment that can be hostile to community. The more we open our homes to others, the brighter and friendlier our world becomes. Yes, sometimes that does come at a cost, like that antique vase you loved that was just knocked off the shelf by a very excited five year old, but I have never once regretted opening my home to others. It helped me to channel my sometimes crippling social anxiety and use it to encourage, support and empathize with those at my table.
The dinner co-op model doesn’t have to start on such a large, weekly scale, it could be as simple as a once a month dinner club. A small group of Jackson folks who have found their home in Nashville have started a Food For All of their own that is only on Sunday evenings. Even now, as we join in this new community of folks, and share meals together, we see evidence that this model of community works. It creates a healthy environment, not only in terms of the food we eat, but also of how we love our friends and neighbors.
Christine Pohl in her book Making Room said that hospitality “requires an openness of heart, a willingness to make one’s life visible to others, and a generosity of time and resources,” which sums up the beauty of one of the many lessons Food For All taught us.