Nourishing Community

If you Google the term care circle, you’ll come up with two different things: websites to help you form giving circles, which pool individuals’ donations for philanthropic goals; and, groups of friends and family that form to help someone who is living with health challenges. I’m writing about the second sort today.

I have a friend who has been living with a serious illness for many years now. She’s one of the busiest, most social people I’ve ever met, but there have been times when she’s been worn down by her illness. That is what’s happening for her right now. So, she’s asked for a care circle. That way, she can expend as little effort as possible on preparing food and arranging to spend time with people, leaving her able to concentrate on taking care of herself. A good friend of hers set up the circle on the Lotsa Helping Hands website, which makes the whole process easier. Each of us joined her care circle on the website and can sign up for meals using a calendar on the site. It’s easy to see what dates are available and there’s little hands on co-ordination needed.

What’s left is the important stuff – cooking good food, eating together and spending time with friends. Maybe it’s my upbringing (actually, it’s definitely my upbringing), but for me there isn’t a lot that’s more meaningful than cooking for someone you care about. Choosing a recipe, buying and preparing the ingredients, improvising along the way and then, finally, sitting down and watching someone enjoy the food you’ve made; all of that adds up to caring. I think this attitude is unnecessarily gendered and subsequently trivialized, as most “female” pursuits have been. I’ve been on both sides of this food equation and people of all genders can create this kind of…well, let’s face it…love.

Food IS love! At least, it’s an expression of love, for oneself and one’s communities. I’m aware that’s a dangerous sentiment to express in a fatphobic culture, but the evidence is all around us. People are increasingly interested in cooking for themselves and their loved ones, facilitated by the accessibility of food websites and blogs. Communities are forming around issues like food security and safety. Here in Vancouver, the only movement rivalling the growth of food culture has been bicycle culture. Often, the two go hand in hand – Farmers’ Markets are some of the best-used Bicycle Valet locations.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that so much community-building effort is going into food issues. We’re moving into an era where people are looking for connection and community, moving away from the suburban separateness that marked the last half of the twentieth century. Food issues are also an unthreatening entry into social justice for a lot of people. This isn’t just an upscale phenomenon, like Growing Chefs fundraisers or foodie tours of the Okanagan. It’s also Quest Food Exchange’s canning workshop this summer, which cost only $5.00, including some canned peaches to take home. People are connecting up and down the economic scale on these issues. I hope this community-building will extend beyond food issues, as I think there’s potential for this energy to open up into other social justice issues, like housing and economic security.

Bringing us back where we started, I wanted to share a recipe with you that I made for my friend – it’s nourishing without being taxing on the digestive system and it’s flavourful without being spicy. You can also easily modify it to suit whatever ingredients you have on hand.

Swiss Chard and Cabbage Soup

10 cups low sodium chicken stock
15 oz. Swiss Chard, washed and chopped
3 cups cabbage leaves, washed and chopped
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely diced or pressed
½ a lemon, juiced
½ a cup finely chopped parsley
1 small bunch fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried basil
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup short grain rice (if you use brown rice, parboil it ahead of time and finish cooking it with the soup)
1½ tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup grated Asiago cheese

Heat the chicken stock, keeping it at a simmer. If you’re using dried basil, add it now.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or wok and add the onion. Cook gently until golden and then add the garlic and cook for a minute or two longer.
Add the cabbage, turn up the heat and cook for a minute or two. Add the Swiss Chard and cook for another minute more.
Add a ½ cup of the hot stock, turn the heat down, cover and simmer for five minutes.
Add the rest of the stock, bring the soup to a boil and stir in the rice, boiling gently for 10-15 minutes.
Add the lemon juice.
Remove from heat, stir in butter (and fresh basil, if that’s what you’re using).
Set the parsley and cheese out for guests to sprinkle on themselves, along with salt and pepper.

(adapted from – you can find the original recipe here: Swiss Chard and Cabbage Soup)


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