In America I started a project called PeaceMeals, which gathers small groups of individuals who have experienced similar traumas in the kitchen and around the dinner table for healing. PeaceMeals is meant to be the catalyst for a type of informal group therapy combining the creative catharsis of cooking with nutritional healing, and with the comfort and fun of dinner parties.
Over the past few months, I have been able to hold a few PeaceMeals here in Belfast. It is difficult to enter a new country and new culture – especially one as wounded as Northern Ireland – and expect to build relationships of trust right away. People are wary of outsiders coming in and trying to “fix” Ireland’s Troubles, with good reason. Many people seem to be tired of peace without real healing.
It took some time to build trust with people who may benefit from the program, but I have met some amazing individuals who were interested in it, so PeaceMeals has gone global!
I led one Meal in conjunction with a local youth club that brings together Protestant and Catholic (and other) students to talk about tough issues and to do interfaith projects. The youth club leader asked if PeaceMeals could come alongside a group of teenage girls from ‘both sides of the divide’ who had been fighting amongst themselves; mostly about catty teenage girl issues, but with some sectarian jabs thrown in. My hope for this Meal was not to facilitate some earth-shattering reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants, nor to ‘solve’ Northern Ireland one teenager at a time. My goal was simply to make these girls laugh together. I planned a teenage-friendly menu: homemade pizzas (whole grain), smoothies (green), a simple salad, and apple crisp with maple whipped cream.
We gathered in a small B&B here and after explaining PeaceMeals a little bit, I set the girls to work, deliberately dividing them into groups according to antagonisms. When I looked across the room and saw a few girls laughing together as they whipped cream all over the walls, I knew that my mission was accomplished, in some small way. We had a great conversation over dinner, ranging from boys to college plans to differences in Catholic and Protestant culinary traditions to the merits of spray tans. The true stuff of life.
I held another PeaceMeal for a group of women who have all experienced the loss of a loved one. Women with a range of experiences gathered at a local home. Some had lost children, some had lost parents, some had lost best friends – some due to “The Troubles”, some not. My goal for this Meal was that they would find community with these other women in a way that they had not found before. We prepared red lentil soup, salad, sweet potato biscuits and chocolate beetroot cake with strawberry whipped cream. I barely had to lead conversation at all, because they were eager to ask each other questions about how they deal with grief, how they honor the memories of their loved ones, self-care strategies, and the many ways to prepare Ireland’s overabundance of cabbage.
There is unique healing to be found by creating space for people to let go of their troubles (or The Troubles) by laughing and talking around a shared meal. This is a truth that seems to be applicable everywhere around the world.