When faced with community subject I had a problem visualizing it in food terms. I wanted to avoid people in the pictures, which is difficult with the social aspect of the term. When discussing it with the editor, we realized that food which is prepared for large groups of people seems so old, almost a vintage habit. Željka, the editor, was fascinated with big pots with large handles, which is so uncommon in today’s presentation of food. My social sciences brain light up with conclusion that this is actually a wonderful representation of growing individualization over time. “Imagine,” said Željka, “some people feel slicing one big cake is barbaric and prefer their own individual tinny cakes.”
This led me to thinking what are the foods that we still do share today? Which are socially acceptable forms of sharing a plate or a bowl? I started paying attention to social occasions involving food – family gatherings, parties, cultural events and joined household. What was present in every single social food sharing were the leftovers, or better say a leftover. The last final piece of food stranded on desolated tables.
My grandma has an expression for it “zhenir stick”, and it stands for the last final piece remaining at the end of the meal, because everybody deliberately ignores it as a courtesy of giving it up for others, showing our polite generous skills. Imagine the idiot grabbing the final piece of cake without any hesitation. How rude, selfish and impolite gesture. Despite all the individualization the last final piece is still where we stop and consider our fellow companions. Or is it just a social ritual well engraved in our manners? Eihter way, it is the food which relates to everybody surrounding it.
Let’s see what happens to the unfortunate last pieces. Usually these are the least desired pieces: crusty, ugly, small or simply cold. Left for the end, they suddenly become everybody’s favourite piece, but remain untouched. If the temptation is too big some might check all present if nobody really, but really won’t have it. We forgive this question to children, but grown ups receive “Nooo, go ahead you have it” with subtitles “Fine you have it, greedy bastard”. In case greedy bastards are absent at the table, there are also semi greedy bastards, who will take the final piece but comfort their bad conscience by sharing it with others. And this is how the final piece becomes the ultimate community food – individual portion shared with whole community.
It is such a common everyday gesture, we hardly even notice it. But when you start thinking about it and observe it, you realise the food is still a strong bond that keeps us together. Sure the boundaries of “my food-your food” are strict, but food still carries rituals and relationships together. We feel uncomfortable eating in presence of a person who doesn’t eat, despite the fact that they already ate, are vegans or on what ever diet to keep them away from sharing your food. If nothing else eating together is like being partners in crime, with food smells, mouthful talking and specks of greens between your teeth. You may like your tiny little cake all for yourself, but it still tastes better when you eat it in a good company.
This Article was first published in Mrvica magazine.