A Longer Table by Alan McCoy

 “When you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher fence.” – Unknown
Whenever I think of cooking good food, my mind usually conjures a group of people sitting around a large table, regaling one another with stories and jokes, glasses full, passing dishes around, placing heaping spoonfuls of freshly made food onto plates. There are plenty of smiles and laughter and in every mental image, that food is always made with love.
Why do most of us have such a strong desire to feed others? Is it a nurturing parental thing? I know a lot of people who aren’t parents who always have friends over for dinner. Maybe we just want to show off our fancypants cooking skills. I’m certainly insufferably guilty of that one from time to time. Or perhaps it’s that personal connection that sharing a meal together creates. The act of nourishing our bodies together reminds us that we all have that one primal thing in common. We all need sustenance. We all need to eat.
So, this is about food. It’s also about politics, but mostly about food.
During the tumultuous events of the past week, with the controversies and executive orders, the divisiveness and bitterness, it was easy for us to lose sight of the things that bring us together. The Women’s March was a salve of unity after an unconventional campaign and inauguration, something positive that all of us – well, most of us – could agree on. In all the “sister marches” held throughout the country there were no arrests and no one was injured or killed. We came together. We cared about one another. We simply got along.
And then, nearly a week later, our sense of community was torn apart once again, but this time, on a more global level. With the swipe of a presidential pen, hundreds of people from seven majority-Muslim countries were effectively banned from entering the United States. You know, the country built by immigrants. The country with the tall robed lady standing in a harbor saying, “Hey, come on in, take off your shoes and stay a while.” The ban, or “travel restriction” as many called it, sparked mass confusion and concern for families who had given up all their possessions in their country of origin to begin a new life in America.
I don’t remember where I first read the quote at the top of this page, but it was one that appeared on my radar at just the moment I needed to hear it. As someone who loves to cook, those words resonated with my instinct to feed friends and family, to sit together around a communal table, to share a meal. But since I couldn’t be there at the airports to help those in need, I decided to take a few days to learn more about one thing I have in common with those affected by the travel ban. I would protest with food.
I started by looking at dishes from each of the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s executive order – Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Lybia, Yemen, and Sudan. I wanted to find the recipes for their comfort food, the dishes that, like our casseroles and stews, give their people a warm feeling of home and love. I wanted to be able to somehow share that connection with them.
In Syria, I found the gentle heat of Aleppo pepper chicken kebobs. In Iran, I discovered the sweetly savory Koresh Fesenjoon, a chicken, walnut, and pomegranate stew very much like our tangy shredded barbecue. Iraq offered its Tepsi Baytinijan, a hearty casserole of meatballs, potatoes, and eggplant. Libya’s close proximity to Italy infuses the dish Macroona Imbakbaka with pasta and tomato sauce, but with a heady Mediterranean mix of spices. And from Somalia, a wonderfully fragrant lamb and rice dish called Skudahkharis enveloped my kitchen with the most delicious aromas. I’m still working through Yemen and Sudan as of this writing.
As I prepared each of these dishes, as I bought and sliced and diced, cooked and boiled and roasted the ingredients, I began to realize that we’re all closer than we think when it comes to comfort food. We all crave that secure feeling of our ancestors reaching us through those recipes, wrapping their arms around us, letting us know our souls are fed. Chicken and beef, potatoes and tomatoes travel across oceans and land in dishes all over the globe, enjoyed by people of all faiths and ethnicities. Meats and vegetables, cooked slow and thick, whether over a stove or over fire, all contain that magical concoction of family, tradition, community, and most of all, love.
Of course, there’s no easy solution to national security or even the global threat of future terror attacks. Bad things will still happen and people will still suffer as a result. We mustn’t let that discourage us. Each of us is only one person, but together, we can do and be so much more. And perhaps a good place for us to start is at the dinner table, where everyone is welcome.

Alan McCoy
Alan McCoy

In addition to a twenty-year career as a web applications developer, Alan McCoy holds a BFA from East Carolina University and is the author of Left of the Dial, a screenplay about a campus radio station in the mid-80s. His next project, the culinary web series About a Handful, is coming soon. Alan lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

One comment

  1. I was genuinely interested in reading about more about the experiences of cooking and sharing dishes from those countries. I have to admit, I feel a little cheated that I did not get to read more about that experience.


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