I can’t stop dreaming about Haiti.
Like everyone else, the news has infused my mind with soul-shaking images of death, ruin, and grief. With hardly two pennies to rub together, money is not the way that I will be helping Haiti—at least not on a large scale. Without medical skills, I don’t have the kind of saving knowledge they really need right now. And with 2 ½ years of graduate school left, I probably won’t be going down there any time soon.
I feel pretty helpless in this whole thing, which I am sure is about 1/1,000,000 as helpless as the Haitians feel looking over the destruction in their capital city and wondering how they will ever go back to normal life again.
As is the privilege of people who are not directly affected by disaster, I have been able to carry on with my life in somewhat normal fashion. I have the luxury of forgetting for a few hours a day. But almost every night since it’s happened, I dream about Haiti. And every time I sit down to a meal, I think about Haitians passing their days on little or no food, what little they have coming in the form of dehydrated emergency meals, high-energy biscuits, and canned goods.
This morning I woke up from a particularly gruesome dream about Haiti, and felt the need to fast, to remember all day, through the hunger pangs, some small part of what the people of Haiti are experiencing every minute. I don’t want to forget today—as I go to class, talk to my classmates, read, or watch TV—that there are people in deep, paralyzing pain.
But, I am a realist. I can’t fast everyday, and even if I could, what good does that do the people of the world? And yes, Haiti is in heart-clenching pain—but people are starving, grieving, and living in squalor all over the world every single day. So, what to do?
How we cook and eat after a disaster like this has become the focus of a heated debate at my school. Yale Divinity School hosts an annual Wooden Spoon Competition, where each of the three classes raises money and prepares a meal. The seniors cook on the first week, the middlers on the second, and the first-years on the third. After each class has served their meal, the judges meet and the winner is declared. The trophy: a wooden spoon that is entrusted to the winning class until the next year when it will be passed to the new victor.
As we have been talking about our prize-worthy menu, there has been much discussion over whether we should take the money we would have spent on food and send it to Haiti, and then encourage the people present on our competition night to fast. Others have suggested we prepare a simple meal of rice and beans and serve no alcohol. From the other camp, some insist that this competition is meant to be a fun, community-building activity and is not the proper forum for statement-making. To be perfectly honest, I am split. The cook in me longs to be part of a fun night of cooking a wonderful meal we can all share and be proud of—win or not (though I think we’ve got a pretty good shot). But another part of me feels that a simple meal, or no meal at all might be an appropriate way of remembering those who are suffering.
In the raging email debate, someone had a lovely observation. There are times, she said, for feast (Easter, for example), and times for famine (Lent, perhaps) and that both are necessary to our lives—but should not be interchanged. This competition is a time for fun and feasting, and that it should not be turned into a fast. She argued that we should cook our hearts out for this competition, and use one of our regular Wednesday night meals after the competition to share a simple dinner in honor of Haiti, or to declare a fast.
There is also the question: how do you judge a competition where one group has taken the “moral high ground” and others have actually tried to compete?
I don’t know what to think. I love the Divinity School, and it is truly one of the kindest, most generous, and most thoughtful places I have ever been. But sometimes it feels like we live in a bubble, here. It’d be nice to know where the rest of the world comes down on this issue….
Sally K says
Something to consider is that one person’s time to feast is another’s time to fast. There is joy and tragedy everyday. The best day of your life will be the worst day for someone else. We’re never all on the same page at once. I think you can feast and still acknowledge that others are enduring hardship. Maybe you could donate a percentage of the monies allowed for the feast — and feast on a little less.
I agree with your div school colleague who observes there’s a time to feast and a time to fast. My immediate advice is to enjoy the dinner prep camaraderie… and win that wooden spoon!
On the other hand, it reminds me of a wise person’s response when asked if you should wipe the Ash Wednesday smudge from your forehead. “If you’re embarrassed, leave it on,” she said. “If you’re proud, then wipe it off.”
I’m not a fan of fasting. In last week’s post (Big Behavior) we admitted that we’re always thinking about the next meal before finishing the one we’re eating. Fact is, I don’t like being hungry. I’m afraid to be hungry. When forced to fast, however, it’s never as bad as I thought it would be… and that’s usually true about most of our fears, eh? Guess I need to leave those ashes on too.
Pam’s Ash Wednesday quote is a real eye-opener. I love it.
I believe we should never be ashamed of our blessings, or they will be given to one who will acknowledge and be grateful for them. I’m a proponent of making the competition a fundraiser – if that’s possible. Let each competitor donate a reasonable amount to participate and send that to Haiti. $1 for supplies; $1 for donation?
Bob M says
Go try and win the “Wooden Spoon”! Have a place at your meal for everyone to donate money for World hunger including Haiti.
Maggy Keet says
Sharon, when I read your piece I was so happy that you had written about Haiti. It’s one everyone’s minds and I think other than a modest financial donation…we all feel pretty helpless as we see the endless suffering. But it’s good to know that weeks later, the people of Haiti are still at the forefront of your school’s discussions and concerns.
I agree with Bob M. Go and win that wooden spoon. But I think it would be such a missed opportunity to bring all these people together and not raise awareness and money for Haiti. So, my answer is…I think you can do both.
P.S. – I hope you win!!
Mike V @ DadCooksDinner says
What an interesting post. I agree with the person who said there are times for celebrating with feasts, and times for restraining ourselves with fasts.
I think the “moral high ground” approach, while noble, is misguided in this case. As you said, there is always something terrible happening somewhere; you could find a very good reason to fast every day of the year. We need Feast days to relax and renew us, to connect us with friends and family, so that we have the energy and drive to go out and help those who need it.
To your other question: If I was judging the contest, I would well, judge the contest based on what it is, a food competition. (In other words, the moral high ground group probably wouldn’t score very well. Unless they’re fabulous at cooking with not much in the way of ingredients – hey, you never know!) I think the tragedy in Haiti should be acknowledged (the donations ideas above sound great), but having it change the nature of the event sounds wrong to me.
Haiti is on everyone’s mind, I hope. As a mother, I too have dreams of some of those images and can’t imagine the pain, physical and emotional those people, Haitians and rescuers, are going through.
I don’t believe fasting does anyone who’s hungry any good. If it makes your heart feel better, then by all means, fast. I also don’t think there should be any discussion about whether or not to have this contest. It has no connection with the disaster in Haiti. But it may be a great opportunity where many people are gathered to make a spot for donations.
I’m reading a new blog called Three Many Cooks. It’s a little cooking, a little life commentary. I’ve seen some of their recipes on Pioneer Woman. If likes their cooking, they must be good!