My first and probably last food fight was a snowy Thanksgiving in Missoula, Montana. I was in my 20’s, and since my family lived half way across the country, due East, I formed community with other Montana transplants.
There was Bev from Ohio, K.D. from Los Angeles, Mary from Pennsylvania, Gail from Minnesota, Leslie from Iowa, Lynne from Idaho, to name only a few. Many of us came to Montana via college, the University of Montana, and loved it so much we decided to stay. Others followed friends out West. I had always dreamed of living in the West. One day I just did it; I picked up and moved.
The food fight was after a Thanksgiving feast: big old Butterball turkey, smashed potatoes with skins, homemade gravy and biscuits, cranberries, cornbread stuffing, and pumpkin pies. Back then we all drank, so there was lots of alcohol around. I don’t drink much anymore, a glass of wine on occasion. But then it was different. I would return years later for a reunion of these same friends, and many had gone into recovery. It was good to visit with them sober and clean.
There were a few native Montanans in our group, friends who knew the lay of the land. Some grew up in eastern Montana, Billings, some in the western areas of Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman, and Helena. I would end up visiting these places over the course of the time I lived there, skiing the valleys, hiking the mountains. I lived in a two-story yellow house on Orange Street near the tracks, when there were no strip malls on Reserve Street, just a series of grassy fields.
The food fight was a culmination of hours of planning, cooking, talking, eating, and playing live music. At the time, we had a drum set, McCartney-style bass, keyboard, and a whole array of random percussion instruments in a basket in the corner. We usually played music together on the Holidays, anything from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to lots of bluegrass — it was Montana in the 70’s.
That Thanksgiving I ended up with mashed potatoes in my hair. Bev threw a biscuit that landed in a ladle of gravy and splashed up on to our shirts. There were cranberry stains on the table cloth that never came out. I remember those days in Montana as good times, even though we all had our problems. We acted, well, we acted like we had not lived as much life as we have lived now.
Food is a metaphor for substance, nutrition, community, family, and friendship. Food is used to show love and nurturing. Food is mother’s milk. Food is not to be wasted. But it’s not good to take oneself too seriously. A good food fight once in a while never hurt anyone. Still, in some places, food can be scarce.
I have often thought of working in community service over the Holidays, something like a soup kitchen or a food bank. I’ve never done it. But I’m keenly aware this time of year that there are people in this country who don’t have enough to eat. They can’t afford it. You don’t have to go to other parts of the world to see how people without enough money to afford food struggle to make ends meet. How people sometimes have to make choices between healthcare and food.
I know a woman, a single parent, who has five children, temps for work in a corporate office, and has no health insurance. It’s available to her through her temp agency, but by the time she purchases it for herself and her five kids, she doesn’t have a paycheck left. She told me she’s one of those people who falls between the cracks. She works hard but makes too much money to apply for additional support for health insurance.
When faced with hard choices, she chooses nutrition for her family. I guess that’s a different kind of fight — the fight for everyone in this country to have healthcare and plenty of food.
-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, December 20th, 2008
-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – COOKING FIASCOS