A couple of weeks ago my wife and I decided to give Peach Dish, one of those online “dinner in a box” companies, a try. I selected two dishes from their slick website, paid with my Amazon account and within a few days a large box appeared on my doorstep with everything I needed to cook two meals. The price? Fifty bucks. That’s kind of steep but when I factored my family’s busy schedule and how much we spend eating out I figured we might actually save money.
The food was actually quite good. Peach Dish is based in Georgia and offers their own take on Southern cuisine using “locally sourced” ingredients. Over the weekend we made cottage pie with pork, carrots and English Peas and then chicken breasts with garlicky kale and grits. It took about an hour to prepare each meal and the recipes were easy to follow. My wife and I were so pleased we ordered another round of meals for the next week.
On Monday morning, well fed and happy, I was back in my office where I work as the social services coordinator for a small town. The biggest part of my job is running the town’s food bank. Despite the relative affluence of where I live quite a few of our citizens are “food insecure” – the PC way of saying people are going hungry. I had never run a food bank before and when I started supplies were on the low side and I noticed a heavy dependence on canned goods. So as the months went by the volunteers and I started bringing in more fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. By coordinating with faith groups, civic organizations and ordinary citizens we’ve managed to keep above water – but I worry.
The food bank is entirely dependent on donations. That means my clients are at the mercy of other people’s largesse. And after twenty-five years in the mental health and restaurant businesses my confidence level in noblesse oblige is fairly low. Years waiting on entitled yuppies and dealing with severely mentally ill people within dysfunctional systems has made me a cynical man. Then a few months after starting this job the Flint water crisis hit. While watching a news reporter interview a Flint clergyman handing out thousands of gallons of donated water and filters he asked the minster a question that made my ears perk up. What happens when people stop giving you this stuff?
“I am a man of faith” the minister replied. “I have to believe it’ll come from somewhere.”
That’s pie in the sky magical thinking at first glace. But as I sat in my office I thought about the parable of the loaves and fishes. You know the story – Jesus was preaching and his disciples were worried that it was late in the day and the thousands of people who had gathered to listen to him were hungry. They asked Jesus to send them away so they could buy food in the local villages.
“You give them something to eat,” Jesus said. The disciples freaked out.
“That would take more than half a year’s wages!” they cried. “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” Not a lot, admittedly.
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
People usually look at this story and think Jesus did some kind of divine quantum presto-chango job and turned a little bit of food into a lot. Now if that’s what you believe I won’t disabuse you of that notion but this all happened thousands of years ago. There weren’t any Taco Bells and 7-11s lying around. You couldn’t call out for pizza. Back then if you hit the road you took food with you. You packed a picnic. If you’ve ever been to an outdoor event you know there are people who’ve made gustatory preparations and those who haven’t. I’m fairly sure the same thing happened with Jesus’s audience.
I’ve always liked to think the people in that crowd really listened to Jesus’ words. Maybe all this “Love your neighbor as yourself” stuff really sank in. And when the disciples started passing out their meager stores perhaps the people in the crowd who had food were moved to share it with those who didn’t. It’s possible. And wouldn’t that be a greater miracle than a divine magic show?
People tend to cling to what it theirs. “What’s mine is mine!” Throughout history the haves have always worried about have-nots taking their shit. Let’s face it; human nature hasn’t changed much in two thousand years. So for that crowd gathered at Jesus’ feet to share their food when it seemed like there wasn’t enough to go around is a very big deal. It was love put into action, the love at the core of Jesus’ preaching – be not afraid. Don’t be afraid to love and reach out to your fellow man; even when doing so makes people think you’re a fool.
Jesus, like that minister in Flint, was a man of faith. Not just faith in God, mind you, but faith in the goodness of His creation. So when his disciples started distributing their bits of bread and fish Jesus was counting on the people gathered to do the right thing. Despite all our cruelty, stupidity and folly Jesus had faith in the miraculousness of man. He believed in humankind’s greatness. On that day his faith was well placed. For me that’s the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Reflecting on all this made me think of my experience with Peach Dish. Jesus didn’t have the Internet in his day. Can you imagine the possibilities if Peach Dish and companies like them delivered a percentage of their food via UPS to hungry families? How about supermarkets using their online delivery services to bring nourishment to needy people? Maybe Uber could give homebound people free rides to the supermarket so they could buy groceries. Finally we’d be using all this digital interconnectedness for something besides Instagraming selfies of us enjoying meals in trendy restaurants or Tweeting about Kim Kardashian’s posterior.
As I was thinking about developing a killer app to do all this stuff a woman walked into my office and asked what the food bank needed. I gave her the handout I give to churches and told her that anything from the list would be greatly appreciated. Two hours later she comes back with two of everything. Then a church group dropped off four cart loads of groceries, an old man gave me a check for twenty bucks and a real estate company called to tell me they’d be dropping off a truckload of stuff next week. Talk about loaves and fishes.
Before I left for the day I looked at the pantry shelves and marveled at the time, energy and generosity that made all the food I was seeing possible. It was then I realized that I have had it all wrong. I’m not dependent on noblesse oblige. Despite my cynicism and brokeness I am called to be a man of faith – counting on the miraculousness of my fellow man. I shouldn’t have been afraid.
I have to believe it will come from somewhere.
And yes, the irony that I’m back in the “food business” is not lost on me.
One correction….Jesus wasn’t a man of faith…Jesus is the man the faith is about…
Your analogy makes sense to this former parochial school student.
Although in a completely different vein, I’ve experienced exactly the same miracle; a little faith goes a very long way!
Thanks for the great essay; good to see you back. Thanks for your take on the loaves and fishes. More people need to hear it. And maybe a little Amos.
Hunger is everywhere. I work in the student services center of a largish public university and we have two staff-supported food banks _in the building._ The kids are going thousands into debt to fund their education, stretching every dollar till it squeaks, and when some part of the funding equation goes south, something has to give. Usually it’s food — then everything else falls apart.
I congratulate you on your new job — I wonder if you’ve been heading in this direction for a long time. Love to hear more about the Food Bank.
Very pleased to see another post from you. I read your entire blog over 4 days in January, 10 years of your life with similar frustrations and values as mine. It made me feel ok about being me. You gave me a good basis for reflection. Thanks again. You might like the cartoons of Michael Leunig.
We’ve missed you! How about a regular post catching your old friends here up. New job? How did that happen? How’s the family? Vague is fine, it is the internet after all, but I really think that we’re all just old friends, who happened to meet at the same blog.
So how has it been?
Just stumbled onto your blog and I’ve been reading the archives all weekend…..you’ve made me laugh, cry and take stock of myself. Keep it up. Looking forward to your next book.
Just so happy to hear from you!
I have been following you since 2005! I’ve been reading every word which you have shared on your blog with a steadfast devotion. I am a loyal reader, and an ardent fan. So appreciate getting this update on your life. Much has changed in these last few years, especially since becoming a husband & father. Many of us do look forward to your writings; so, thank you for this up-date. Love your take on the fish & loaves, as it reminds me of your early adult life. Just so you know…I check your website at least twice a week. Thanks, Waiter!
There are options….Check with local grocery stores. Some food items are still usable but have gone beyond the “sell by” date. Trader Joe’s is one of those stores. Bakeries might offer day old bread/cake/cookies. There may be a large food bank that delivers to the smaller food banks. This happens in Utah. Not sure about other states and how they operate.
Keep ranting waiter! As a new blogger you inspire me and great to hear about your new work direction. Keep the faith!
I found and read your book, Waiter Rant over this long holiday weekend. I just finished reading and came here online to seek your the Waiter Rant blog and found this post. This story was the gospel on Sunday, I’m pretty sure that’s a whole lot serendipity. Thanks for a great weekend of reading, good luck caring for your food bank.
It’s so refreshing to see someone unafraid to openly reflect upon his faith. Please keep them coming!
Found this while reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Divinty School Address. Seemed apropos to this story. Italics are mine.
“Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his world.”