For most Americans the thought of eating puffer fish or raw sea urchin is unthinkable, if not down right disgusting. I can honestly say from experience that dried cuttlefish is impossible to chew and that fried tripe is nearly impossible to keep down. But meals, especially meals in foreign lands and cultures are so much more than just a way to fill the tank. Meals are about people, cultures, friendships, relationships, communication and building trust. Food is one of the most enjoyable, and at times the most challenging, aspects of being a plant hunter. Food and drink is an intrinsic part of plant hunting.
It should come as no surprise that the ministry of Jesus was so closely associated with food and drink. He changed water into wine, fed thousands with a few fish and loaves, and dined with his closest friends in the upper room. But have your ever thought about what message it would have sent if Peter or one of the other disciples refused to eat the food Jesus offered? What if Andrew had complained about the wine at last supper? Refusing to share or even appreciate the gift of a meal is a slap in the face of your host, even if it’s barbequed sea eel and potato wine.
No matter where I’ve traveled, I have always eaten what my host has offered and I was always appreciative. In Mexico, I discovered that my host spent a week away from his family doing odd jobs just so he could buy the meat for our meal. While in Japan, a group of local nurserymen dug deep in their pockets to take us to one of the best and most expensive restaurants in Tokyo. In Korea, grower after grower bought the same expensive meal despite that fact that the price could have feed their families for a week. What message would I have sent to these people if I had refused their gift of a meal?
One of my most memorable meals was with a small grower along the Northern coast of France. I had often heard that the French people are rude, but I have found the complete opposite to be true. This particular nurseryman was so thrilled that we had travel so far and had taken time to visit his humble nursery. He insisted on popping open a bottle of Champagne. We had not known each other 30 minutes earlier, but there we sat, is his home talking about plants, the nursery business and life as we shared the bottle and food. I do not normally drink so early in the day but who am I to refuse this mans gift?
Over the course of that meal we learned that his home had been occupied by Germans for four years during WWII. He parents had been taken off to concentration camps, while he and his brother were forced to run the farm and feed the German soldiers.
But on this day he was feeding Americans, and for him that was reason to celebrate. Soon after D-day this man’s home was liberated by American troops. In the the four months that followed, he and his brother joyfully shared their home and meals with these young American boys. And now, nearly 60 year later we sat in the same home and shared food and drink. Together we ate, drank and laughed and yes even cried as he told us that his father and Mother never returned from the camps. All of this - over a few hours and a meal.
Perhaps now you can see why I never complain about the food when I travel. Meals are not so much about the food, but rather about the people whom you share them with. Food is about friendships, relationships and sharing. It is also one of the most joyous aspects of being human.
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