Bead for Life
My experience volunteering with Bead for Life was very rewarding and nourishing. It was a pleasure to learn more about the organization. Overall, I found the simple task we were given—filling plastic Christmas ornaments with beads—to be the kind of meditative project I could easily settle into and enjoy. The opportunity to experience the PAX 250 class in a different context was also very welcomed.
Boulder Food Rescue
I showed up to a Unitarian Universalist church Saturday afternoon to help prepare a meal for a Rocky Mountain Peace Institute event. A car pulled up shortly after my arrival filled to the brim with food. For those unfamiliar with what Boulder Food Rescue does—BFR works in partnership with grocery stores here in Boulder, taking the food they would otherwise be throwing in the garbage bins and distributing it to food-insecure families as well as to the homeless.
We lugged in three or four large containers filled with food to the kitchen. My initial reaction was something of an amalgam of shock and amazement… To see so much perfectly good food which would have gone to waste—whole trash bags filled with untouched loaves of baked bread, pastries and cookies, tremendous amounts of fruit, salad greens, prepared soups, and vegetables—most of which had come from Whole Foods. This really put the insanity of the American food system in perspective. For example, in 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children (1) and then take into consideration that America wastes as much as 40% of its food (2). Put bluntly, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever starve or go without food, and yet so many do. Organizations like BFR are working to correct this gross injustice.
With my mouth somewhat agape at how much food we were working with, I inquired as to how many people we were going to be cooking for—“150 to 200,” came the reply. It also turned out that no one really knew what we were going to be cooking. This was due to the fact that they work with whatever gets donated that day. I also discovered that the meal was to be served in three hours. My heart leapt into my throat for a moment. Taking a deep breath, I surveyed the kitchen and noticed that it was now full of other volunteers—perhaps ten or more. The kitchen very swiftly became a torrent of energy, excitement, and motion. Looking to an overflowing bin of fruit—strawberries, apples, pears, pomegranates, watermelon, and cantaloupe to name a few—I collected myself and set to making fruit trays.
Instantly, I felt right at home, harkening back to my days heading cooks for large retreats. I felt enlivened by the energy and sense of camaraderie in the kitchen, whilst multiple projects began taking shape amidst jovial conversation and good spirits. There is an almost mystical, alchemical transformation that takes place in the kitchen while many prepare a meal together. What begins as many disjointed pieces to an enormous puzzle—people, ingredients, time, and equipment—somehow transforms into a gorgeous feast. All the movements and projects seem to settle into a baffling synchronicity, and cooking begins to resemble something far more akin to improvisational dance.
Salads, fruit trays, assorted bread and pastries, baked squash, a curry, and a few large pots of hearty stew were soon set out to be served. Not only did it all come together--we had a half hour to spare! Looking over the fine work we had done, and seeing the enormous amount of food (enough to feed 200!) that would have otherwise been wasted, now going to good use was deeply satisfying. Grinning wildly, the words of Neem Karoli Baba came to mind, which are written on a large banner in the kitchen I used to cook for others in, “Love people. Serve people. Feed people. Remember God.” Upon leaving that evening, I felt wholeheartedly that I had done just that.