Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Food for thought

It is in places like the Crocus Café where I feel most at home this side of the pond.

At the moment I’m ensconced in a squishy couch in the corner of this little “volunteer-led, community cafe” on an unassuming Lenton street, gazing up at a large blackboard with items like “Toast, 25p” and “Porridge, £1.20” colorfully chalked in. I’ve ordered the leek and cauliflower cheese bake, with ratatouille and roast sweet potato, for a mere £3.20.

Not only do the prices of this not-for-profit, locally sourced enterprise make me feel welcome (as I am a volunteer in Britain living on my dwindling savings and the straggling income of a part-time, long-distance freelancer—paid, of course, in meager American dollars), but the atmosphere is just right, too.

It’s not fancy. Crocus Café is about community and eating well while doing the least amount of harm to the earth and humanity. These values are increasingly embraced in the Chicago area, where I worked as a features reporter the last four years, as they are here in England.

As I researched and wrote stories about food trends, about gardening and green building and health issues back in Chicago, I began to sense a link between contentment and the sharing of healthy, tasty, often-simple meals. I was invited into home after home as strangers enthusiastically prepared their family food traditions for me, and I left gardening assignments bearing fresh-cut flowers and homegrown tomatoes from hitherto-unknown interview subjects delighted to talk about the wonder of growing things.

The lessons continue in England. Last Saturday I attended a dinner party and was served baked salmon with an avocado salsa, alongside new potatoes and green salad, with Pavlova for dessert. I didn’t know the other guests before the meal, but afterwards felt myself with friends.

Crocus is filling up now with the lunchtime crowd and I don’t know any of them. Yet I don’t feel alone. Not in the least.

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