Sharing a Way of Life

Sheldon - Goshen, Indiana
Entered on September 17, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in sharing food.

As a toddler, I needed my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In middle school, I needed my own bowl of popcorn to watch “Full House” on Friday nights. And ever since high school, I’ve rarely ordered appetizers in restaurants for fear of having to share my chips and salsa with someone else.

This all changed two years ago when, as a college student from Indiana, I lived in Cambodia for three months. Ma, my Cambodian host mother, taught me that sharing food is not an option. It is a communal experience. It is a way of life.

At every meal, each person received a generous mound of white basmati “baay” (rice). Small dishes of bony fish soup and fatty chicken and vegetables were strategically placed in the center of the table, within reach of everyone. To eat, everyone spooned out food at the same time and chewed loudly – an understood sign of respect that the food is delicious.

Back home in Pennsylvania, I grew up eating meals with my family. I’m used to sharing a common table. But Ma taught me how to take things one step further – to share food, to be vulnerable, to be comfortable enough to eat from a common plate. In Latin, this idea is referred to as “communis,” meaning “to share by all or many,” the etymological root of words such as communal, community, and communication. In Cambodia, sharing food is not a hurried act but a cherished process. It is an intimate experience meant to enrich relationships and develop community.

Ma constantly reminded me that our dinner table was open to anyone. My family didn’t have many possessions, but they shared gracefully. For my 20th birthday, Ma invited all 25 of my fellow college students over for chicken curry – my favorite food. The meal was loud and entertaining, complete with a cheesecake dessert and leftovers for a week. After three hours of eating, we sang “Happy Birthday” in Khmer and doused each other in silly string.

I now eagerly share my food with others. While traveling abroad this past summer, my friends and I became coffee connoisseurs as we taste-tested each others’ “café con leche” in Spain. While in Morocco, I purposely ordered more couscous than I knew I could eat by myself.

The last time the Phillies were on television, I remembered to pop twice as much popcorn. I imagine Ma would’ve been pleased.