Originally this was going to be an article (Essay? Piece? Rant? Rant.) about how aggressive religious overtones complicate soup kitchen experiences for non-catholic homeless people in the US. I was going to compare the Sikh temple to the American Catholic soup kitchen (an institution which often shoves as much dogma down patrons’ throats as soup) and talk about how religiously motivated charity doesn’t have to be proselytizing and yadda yadda yadda whatever. Honestly, who gives a shit? I mean, I do (obviously). For the most part though, I don’t think people really care that much about the implications of the context in which we consume our meals, or homeless people for that matter.
Churches and other religiously affiliated soup kitchens do really good work. They’re feeding infinitely more people than I am. If they want to shout out their #inspo for charity and talk about Jesus, who am I to stop them? Is it such a big deal if they make you promise not to mention any other systems of belief or figures of faith? Is telling you that you cannot volunteer if you don’t agree with their efforts to actively convert homeless people to Christianity the worst thing in the world? (Wassup @ Springs Rescue Mission) I don’t know; I’m just a Jew who likes soup, I’m not really qualified to take those questions on.
So, what am I qualified to take on? I feel comfortable talking about why this topic makes me so upset. Why I spent an entire day foaming at the mouth while I screamed into the great blue void above and pulled clumps of hair from my scalp. The sky and I discussed many different facets of this issue, but the thing that upsets me the most is the quid pro quo nature of the exchange, and how I feel like that fundamentally goes against what a meal should be. There is no greater responsibility in the world than sustaining our peers. There is no greater alchemical service than turning a necessity of life into a pleasure. Landlords could do it if they wanted to but for the most part they don’t. The people that do this work are the people that work in food service, the people that provide meals.
Serving a meal should always be a selfless act, regardless of the patron’s class. To make a meal for someone else is to kill the ego and to give away essential resources. It makes no sense that our stupid lizard brains even let us serve other people’s food that we’ve made. Undertaking the role of nourishing the community is a big deal. The work of Cooks and Chefs (and bakers and bartenders and baristas and and and…) is not only to sustain life, but to improve it. Nobody should have to sing hymns for their supper, or be pressured to change who they are in order to stop their stomach from growling. The American Catholic church has never been described as overly tolerant. It can be very traumatic for struggling people to enter a space permeated by a belief system that does not believe in them. For some people, it might be too much, and without another immediate alternative they might just have to go another day without food. That is not in the spirit of charity, the soup kitchen, or cooking in general.
Calories are not bargaining chips. Hunger should not be used as a tool. Goodwill should not be exploited. People who need food should be given food. They should not have to put themselves in an uncomfortable position to stay alive. They should not have to be put in a position where they feel like they cannot reconcile their beliefs with their needs. Nor, quite frankly, should the people who want to serve them. I do not believe there is a time more sacred than mealtime, but I do believe that indoctrination should be off the menu. I believe it goes against the very nature of cooking to exploit the hunger of those who have been failed by our society. I believe that if there is a god, they are a chef, and they are sending these proselytizing putains to the dishpit in tartarus to scrub woks for eternity.
Featured Image: Still Life with Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz, 1627