Tuesday, March 14, 2017

People, Like Food, Are Better in Diversity

(From the March 9 edition of the Grand Haven Tribune)

 I had the opportunity while visiting friends in Florida to also visit a rather remarkable farmers market. In fact, "farmers market" is a term that does not do justice to the spectacle that I saw. With all due respect to the farmers markets in Spring Lake, Grand Haven, Muskegon and Grand Rapids, the Green Yellow Market in Ft. Lauderdale is a shopping mall by comparison.

But the size is irrelevant. What was striking to both my wife and I as we wandered through the crowded stalls with our friend was the diversity and pleasantness we encountered here in south Florida. And, in addition to produce, fish, and other delectable delights, we left the market with some important thoughts about diversity.

For one, people are like food in that diversity is exciting and nourishing. In fact, a diversity of food and people pair nicely. So the experience was enhanced when we talked with the African American women while they made us fresh smoothies of mango, pineapple, coconut and beet. We felt enriched when we spoke with the young, beautiful Pakistani woman at the market for her first time offering samples of aloo and chutneys. We were also delighted by the cheerful enthusiasm of the Indian woman from whom we bought chicken curry and naan bread, the Italian man who sold us delicious olives, and the Brazilian man who educated us on the health benefits of acai.

It became so obvious. We need food to survive. We must eat. Yet to eat the same thing or few items day after day is as boring as it is an unhealthy diet. Variety is indeed the spice of life. We delight in experiencing new foods, something exotic excites and interests us. The different taste is tempting to our palates and deeply satisfying.

The same should be true of our experiences with people who are different. We do not have to permanently forgo our "normal diet" to try something different. Why not break from another order of the usual and have the courage to go down the menu. It can be such a thrill to go boldly to the buffet, to savor the smorgasbord of ages, cultures, languages and nations. It's better than just shaking our heads, looking away, and wrinkling our nose because we "might" not like it.

When we sampled Cuban coffee, it woke us up. When we ordered some shrimp tacos, our peculiar hunger was sated. In the same way, encountering different people makes us alert to what we have been missing and provides a feeling of needed nourishment.

Another thought we had is that fast food is never as good as authentic food. Most of us will pass on reheated frozen portions or processed food with scientifically derived ingredients. We will, by comparison, salivate over fresh natural ingredients. Give me slow-cooked ribs on the barbecue over drive through burgers any day.

When it comes to diversity of people, the same applies. As my wife noted, you can't force diversity. At the market, the potpourri of people came together organically, like most of the products there. There was a common desire for good natural food. And when people came together with this common interest, they got along like basil and oregano. Better this than forced diversity from programs and quotas and policies. That may get the job done short term, but ultimately it leads more to feelings of indigestion and guilt than gratification and contentment.
I realize that people are not food. Even with food, not everyone can enjoy everything. Some may even have outright allergies and bad reactions to specific foods. But even if you must avoid certain foods, it does not mean you can't appreciate them simply by looking at them for the variety they contribute. Locally, I'd recommend Cumin, the Indian restaurant with the Nepali staff, or Mama Thai. There may be more food variety now, and hopefully even more soon.

We couldn't help but notice that was the vibe among the many stalls and booths of fresh produce, hummus, pesto, beverages, menu items, and assorted natural lotions and creams and balms. The people were happy, courteous, and smiling. It has been said that there is nothing like food to bring people together. But what happens next is up to the people. I would hope that more will have the courage to not only taste what is different, but also digest. I would expect that those who do will wear the unmistakable smile of satisfaction.