I Support Mix It Up At Lunch Day BECAUSE I am a Christian

One of my current writing projects has me spending a lot of time in the Gospels, especially the Gospel according to Luke, which may be my favorite Gospel (are we allowed to have favorites?) not least because of its astonishing reversals:

It’s the Gospel where a poor, uneducated girl–Mary–has more faith than an educated, aged, male priest–Zechariah.

It’s the Gospel where a widow’s two pennies amounts to more in God’s eyes than fat donations from wealthy pockets.

It’s the Gospel where Jesus says: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Invite the people who can’t pay you back by conferring social prestige on you, because that is the where the real reward is.

Yes, Luke’s Gospel is a Gospel that proclaims love for the marginalized. And out of the four, Luke has the most meals.

(It’s the Gospel in which Jesus is accused, among other things, of being a “glutton and a drunkard,” who eats with “tax collectors and ‘sinners.'”)

In other words, it’s the Gospel that Mixes It Up At Lunch.

Do you remember lunch in middle school? And high school? I do, because every year, when I’d get my new schedule, I’d have a gnawing sense of dread, wondering who I’d have lunch with and where I would sit, and fearing that I might end up alone.

There were always sharp divisions at lunchtime, weren’t there? The cheerleader table, the ‘artsy’ table, the ‘brainy’ table, the athletic table, and so on, and so on; divisions so definite that may well have been clearly marked on the tables themselves.

Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center–an organization dedicated to “fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society” (sound familiar?)–says that in their surveys, students “have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn.” That’s why they’ve initiated “Mix It Up At Lunch” day, which is October 30 this year.

On this one day,

“we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.”

The Times article noted that Mix it Up has been particularly effective at one school at pairing special needs students with those outside their usual (sometimes isolating) circles.

Have you ever experienced that–especially over a meal? Eating with others is, in virtually every culture, a profound act that indicates acceptance and belonging and mutual care. It’s why a new husband and wife feed one another cake. It’s why we bring casseroles for families with new babies and when there’s a death. It’s why children who eat together with their families tend to do better than those who don’t.

It’s why it was so scandalous that Jesus did all that eating and drinking with tax collectors and prostitutes and other ‘questionable’ characters–because eating with others breaks down the walls between people.

It meant that Jesus was intimate with people that the religious elite regarded as unacceptables.

But this was not some New Testament innovation. All throughout the Hebrew Bible respectful generosity–hospitality! sharing food!is a mark of righteousness. As the writer Marilynne Robinson writes:

“When Jesus describes Judgment, the famous separation of the sheep from the goats, he does not mention religious affiliation or sexual orientation or family values. He says, ‘I was hungry, and ye fed me not.'”

Is it that much of a stretch to extend that to “I was lonely and awkward and confused, and you ate with me not?”

So I’m more than a little grieved to read the headline “Christian Group Finds Gay Agenda in an Anti-Bullying Day” in the New York Times. The American Family Association encouraged their millions of subscribers not to send their children to school on October 30, calling Mix It Up day “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools,” a baseless and hurtful claim.

By now I think you’ll see why I happen to think Mix It Up at Lunch Day expresses some important Christian values–values that come from Moses, are affirmed by the Prophets, and are lived out by Jesus–

values that, often enough, reveal themselves in the people we’re willing to share a meal with.

Wouldn’t it be better to open the Times to read something like “Christian Group Finds Christian Agenda (as expressed in Luke’s Gospel) in an Anti-Bullying Day”?

Because eating with people from outside your circle is what Christians are about.

{I haven’t forgotten that it’s World Food Day. Click here to take action!}

Paula Deen’s Diabetes

So, Paula Deen, the TV cook, restaurateur, and cookbook author, has Type II diabetes.

And, apparently, she’s known about it for quite some time. There’s speculation that she’s kept her diagnosis quiet to protect her lucrative career as Queen of Southern Cooking. Of course, now that it’s out in the open, she’s announced that she’s teaming with NovoNordisk to promote a new diabetes drug.

In a USA Today interview, Deen noted that she was sad, because she thought she’d have to change her whole lifestyle. But thanks to the drug–and the addition of some moderate exercise in addition to cutting out the gallons of sweet tea–she’s doing just fine.

While Deen has been criticized by Anthony Bourdain for her super-rich recipes (he called her the “most destructive influence on the Food Network”), she says that she doesn’t cook her high-butter, high-sugar recipes every day. And while I’m never excited about pharmaceutical answers to lifestyle questions (it makes so much sense to prevent Type 2 diabetes, because it’s largely preventable), I have to say I’m just not sure that Paula Deen deserves as much criticism as she gets.

And that’s because I am pretty sure that cooking–even somewhat heavy cooking–is more of a cure than a disease–even when we’re talking about Paula Deen’s cooking. Let’s not forget that Julia Child cooked with “slabs of butter and glugs of cream,” too.

To me, even “unhealthy” home cooking is nearly always healthier than preprocessed food for a few simple reasons:

1. Preprocessed food is engineered for hyperpalatability–meaning that it’s designed to be appealing, addictive, and to go down easy (more on that here.)

2. (related to #1) Preprocessed food has profit-motive in mind.

3. Preprocessed food is too easy. If you make French fries or doughnuts from scratch at home, you won’t make them that much, because they’re a major pain in the butt. So you’ll only make & eat them at reasonable intervals

and

4. The effort that goes into home cooking–if recognized properly by everyone involved in the eating--brings it’s own kind of reverence, which helps moderate appetite. (I think.)

That’s one reason why I like everyone to play a role in making family meals happen. When we have a strong sense of time and effort and cooperation it takes to get a meal to the table, we’re apt to eat more reverently and less mindlessly.

So while I would rather Paula Deen not capitalize on her diagnosis to make pharmaceutical endorsements, I can’t bring myself to “hate on” her. Neither she nor her recipes are responsible for childhood obesity or for the preponderance of preventable diet-related disease.

Because that’s a problem that’s bigger than any one person.

A Disturbing Tale (and, Please Be Kind to Your Server)

So the Palm Beach gazillionaire John Castle apparently broke his waiter’s finger for bringing the bill to the table (as, reportedly, his wife requested) instead of charging it to the account.

Ouch.

Treating restaurant servers kindly is very, very big in my book. Once upon a time three times, I was a restaurant server, and there are plenty of people in my life who have done that very same work.

It’s harder work than you might imagine it would be, if you’ve never tried it. What’s involved varies from restaurant to restaurant, but it’s always more than taking orders and carrying plates.

In one place I worked, we cleaned, set tables, refilled condiments, prepared salads to order, garnished soups, cut bread, rolled silverware, sliced lemons, and poured certain drinks. That, and we had to watch the timing of our diners’ progress, decide when to ‘fire’ the next course, and multi-task, prioritize, and re-prioritize endlessly.

CC licensed; credit here.

And that’s without the obligatory friendliness and small-talk. It’s hard work. I wasn’t particularly great at the logistical side of serving, but I enjoyed the interpersonal part of it.

Except sometimes. Because people really can be mean to the server. Sometimes it’s for no reason. Sometimes it’s because they’re unhappy with the food, or how long the wait is.

(By the way. Most of the time? Those things are not the server’s fault.)

Which is reason #2 why you should not dock your server’s tip for slow service. Chances are, it’s not his fault. And though it’s popular to assume that tips are for rewarding good service or punishing poor service, it’s not really quite fair to do this, partly because of Reason #1.

Reason #1 is this: in most states, servers earn a pittance–well below the minimum wage. Tips are their salary! Sound unfair to you, the consumer? Well, maybe it is. It would be better if servers were just paid more and restaurant prices were automatically surcharged 20%. Because here’s something most non-restaurant folk don’t know: the server doesn’t pocket all the money that you tip! Most–no, probably all–restaurants require the tips to be split and/or shared among all the servers plus the bar (if there is one) plusthe bus-persons. ‘Punishment’ and ‘rewards’ don’t really work when this is in play (as it usually is).

CC licensed; credit here.

Beyond all this, there’s the fact that servers are, well, your neighbors. Yeah, you’re paying them to ‘serve’ you, but they are just like you: worried about their bills, worried about their kids, trying to make it through school, trying to make ends meet, trying to keep it together, feeling tired, feeling lonely, juggling a thousand things at once–you get the idea.

And so love your server as you would love yourself. Treat them as you would like to be treated. Most of the time, they want to do right by you. So do right by them!

And remember: the way someone treats a server is telling–

If you’re on a date with someone who seems nice, but is a jerk to the server, they’re probably a jerk.