The university that our son attends has an annual dinner that is unique and that helps the university students connect with community. The event is called "Longest Table' and brings together a crowd of more than 2,000 students and community members. The main street in town is closed off and one very long table it set up in the middle of the street. It stretches for many blocks. There are a variety of foods at this event, as each person who hosts a section of the table serves a menu that is unique to them, as well as table setting and centerpiece. Sometimes families go together to provide for a larger number of community members. For example, one group of three families got together to make a Mexican fair with a taco bar, salads, cream puffs, flan, and roasts. Another host family provided a lovely meal of sushi and other Japanese food and decor. Each hosts menu is different, but they are all tied together by being served on one long table. I just love the idea! What a way to share with others! And the cost to students and community members who attend is nothing! It is a community event that is designed to draw the students into the community and participants provide it as a volunteer service; a gift from the heart.
This community service event reminds me of a story I used to read my boys when they were young. I believe that sharing stories that involve food are a great way to tie other subjects to cooking experiences and character development. Here is a story that can be used to teach cooperation, sharing, and self-reliance. It can also be used as a topic starter on problem solving.
Once upon a time there was a small village. The sun was going down and it was dinner time. As usual, everyone was in his or her own little house thinking about the same thing --- what shall we have for dinner tonight? But on this particular night everyone thought and thought for a very long time. There was a problem, and it was a problem that everyone shared. No one had enough food in his or her house to make a dinner. Everyone had the same problem!
Because this was a friendly little town where everyone knew everyone else, the word soon got around. Neighbors were talking about their problems with each other in the street, on front porches, and over back yard fences. They all agreed that something had to be done soon because everyone was getting very hungry.
There was a man in the town who happened to be a very good cook, and as he was thinking about this problem with his wife, she came up with the answer. "We will make a new and different kind of soup called Share Soup, and you will direct the cooking," she said. Her husband thought this was a wonderful idea that his wife had, and as the townspeople in the village found out about the idea they became more and more excited and happy. But what was Share Soup, they asked? The man's wife explained, "Share Soup is a soup you make with a big pot of water and every one's share of food. If everyone brings their little share of food from home, we can make one big delicious soup for everyone. I call it Share Soup."
"First we'll need a large pot," he said. The people brought the largest pot they could find. "And now," the man said, "water to fill the pot and a fire to heat it." It took many buckets of water to fill the pot. A fire was built on the main street of the town and the pot was set to boil.
"Soup needs salt and dried herbs," said the man. He began to stir and the children ran to get salt and dried herbs.
"Salt and dried herbs make good soup, but if there were carrots it would taste much better."
"I think I have some carrots," said one woman, and she ran home. She came back with a handful of carrots and put them in the pot.
"Share Soup should really have some cabbage," said one man, and he returned soon with a big head of cabbage which he cut up and put in his pot.
"How I wish we had some potatoes and onions; then this soup would be the most delicious soup ever," the man said. Some children remembered where they'd seen some and hurried home to get them.
A delicious soup --- and all from some water and every one's share of food. It seemed like magic! As the man stirred the soup he thought, "If we had a little rice and a cup of milk, this soup would be the best soup in the whole world." More people ran home to get a little milk and rice. Soon everyone from the town had put in his or her share of food.
The man who was such a good cook stirred and stirred the soup while everyone watched happily. And then the soup was ready.
"Everyone gets a taste," said the man. "But first, let's set the tables." Great big tables were place in the main street. All around were lighted candles. Such a soup! How good it smelled! It really was the best soup anyone in the town had ever tasted!
*Adapted from Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown