Food is not simply sustenance

I wanted people to feel the emotional bond that food can convey, the delight in the tastes of their childhood...

August 14, 2019 11:22
3 minute read.
The care and sense of security that goes into providing someone with a healthy meal is what drives S

The care and sense of security that goes into providing someone with a healthy meal is what drives Soni Winer in her work with NEVET. (photo credit: YAEL BEN SHAUL)

For as long as I can remember, food has been the constant in my life. From childhood memories of sitting at my mother’s kitchen table, to the ones I am now creating with my own children and grandchildren, food and the love that comes with it have guided my life.

When I was chosen to be a contestant on the cooking program MKR Hamitbach Hamentzeach (The Winning Kitchen) I was both excited and nervous to be able to share that feeling and those ideals with the greater Israeli public. I wanted people to feel the emotional bond that food can convey, the delight in the tastes of their childhood, and the emotional feeling that you get when provided a warm or hot meal prepared with love.

My mother was a wonderful cook. I used to say that she exuded flavor and taste even from her fingertips. When I was on the show, I wanted to bring my mother’s recipes into my story: I wanted to somehow bring her into the experience with me.

Food has a certain power which, through its smells and tastes, can become a source of comfort and security, bringing us back to a good and safe place.

When my grandchildren visit, they always try and guess what type of treat I will have for them when I greet them at my door. It is a constant, something they can count on. Savta will always have something for them to eat and enjoy.

It is exactly for that reason that I can also appreciate that the lack of food also translates to lack of security and consistency.

HUNGER IS not simply a physical or health concern, although that certainly is its most immediate and dangerous manifestation.

But it is also directly linked to social and behavioral problems, because a person without food to love, enjoy and feel comforted by will feel that sense of insecurity.

Nowhere is that more apparent than with school-aged children.

Even a young child is able to appreciate that food is not simply about sustenance. Food is infused with love – and when a child is given a meal, he or she knows that they are being cared for. They have a sense of belonging, a sense of attachment to the traditions and flavors that inspired those same foods.

The sad reality is that tens of thousands of children arrive at school every day deprived of those positive emotions. Hunger is a daily reality and those children are forced to confront a world that is devoid of that security. Send them out to school hungry and you are far more likely to see a child who is frustrated, withdrawn, potentially violent and certainly unmotivated, leading to poor behavior and the disciplinary actions that follow. It becomes a vicious cycle, often leading to inability to concentrate, getting kicked out of or cutting class, dropping out of school and continued difficulties as they grow up.

However, with the addition of a little sustenance, and knowing that someone cares enough to help provide that nutrition, our entire mood and outlook on life can change.

The Nevet program that I am proud to be a part of is driven by that understanding. We don’t claim to have the answer to the national hunger crisis. The growing rate of poverty in Israel means that this is too ambitious a goal for us to address at this time. But we CAN give these children a taste of security and care by providing them with a fresh, healthy sandwich every day. And that’s what we do. Nevet provides over 8,000 students with sandwiches daily, giving them not only the sustenance they need to concentrate on their studies but also the confidence and sense of security that comes with not having to worry about where their next meal will come from.

So maybe I am not their savta, but here’s to hoping these children know that when school starts up again, there is a whole community of volunteers and educators who will be there every day with their love and security – their treat – just like I have for my grandkids.

The writer appeared on the Israeli cooking show MKR Hamitbach Hamentzeach. She is a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, a chef and a relationship manager for the nonprofit organization Nevet.

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