By TNFP’s Office Manager, Elizabeth Langgle-Martin
As a group of people passionate about the work of growing, cooking, and sharing nourishing food, one our values here at The Nashville Food Project is that every person has the capacity to act as both guest and host. These roles can exist simultaneously or vary from moment to moment, opportunity by opportunity.
As I let this idea marinate, rolling around in my mind and seeping into my heart, I think of the friends that I’ve seen express great feats of hospitality and generosity while battling poverty and instability themselves.
My dear friend Bud moved into his own apartment after an extended time of living on the street, battling rising housing costs and underemployment. With only a few months of housing under his belt and little to no disposable income, Bud worked for several days to purchase, prep and cook a full homemade lasagna dinner for 20 guests at a resource shelter for folks who were still in the midst of experiencing homelessness. His willingness to meet a need that he himself had experienced only weeks before was a reminder of the capacity of his heart, his resilience, and his understanding of solidarity and interdependence that so many of us still struggle to grasp.
During our Friday hot meal delivery to Vine Hill, a subsidized apartment building in the Wedgewood area for adults who are elderly or have a disability, residents line up eagerly to enjoy a freshly prepared meal served by dedicated volunteers from The Nashville Food Project. They arrive as guests, but often request meals to deliver to neighbors and family members who are homebound and unable to secure a meal for themselves. Within the same moments, these dear residents act as both a guest to the meal that TNFP has prepared and then take those meals to serve as host to their friends and family who are limited in their access to nourishing food.
On a particular evening, I was struggling to prepare a large batch of pulled pork bbq in my limited crock pot space for an overnight shelter and reached out to my friends, Lou and Ron. Lou and Ron are best friends who I met during their time sleeping behind a local church and slowly journeyed with through stacks of paperwork, secured personal documentation, disappointments, and finally the receipt of house keys to their own apartments, side by side! Lou and Ron quickly offered up the donated crockpots that stood in their newly acquired kitchens and carried them to my car on that Friday in eager excitement to contribute to feeding folks on the street who were still struggling through the long process towards permanent housing.
This concept, this value, of recognizing the capacity for guest and host in each person, regardless of their situation and current needs, changes the way we approach implementing our mission to bring people together through the growing, cooking, and sharing of food in the Nashville area, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city. This important shift reminds me of Lilla Watson’s famed words “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” When we recognize our own need and ability to be both guest and host, we are reminded that our liberation is bound up with those to whom we are hospitable and to those who extend hospitality towards us.
I’ve been offered a comfortable seat and a cold drink in a rural encampment boasting a threadbare tarp as a roof. Friends with no home of their own to return to have spent endless time and energy on freezing nights helping me seek out other vulnerable folks stuck outside to provide emergency aid, life-saving supplies, and transportation. A dear friend spent the last of his food stamps to gift me a vegetarian wrap for lunch during a busy day.
I’ve experienced the most vibrant generosity from those who I may have assumed had little to give and I’m reminded once again of people’s infinite ability to be grace to each other. For that I am thankful and by that I am humbled, challenged, and inspired.
At The Nashville Food Project, we think about the ways in which we are hosts and guests at the table. We make space for both.
How do you create space to be both a guest and host in your daily life? How do you remain open to be a guest to the hospitality of others?