“All the good restaurants are leaving,” one of our kids wrote in a family text thread after learning that a local diner had announced its last day.
Earlier, when another favorite restaurant we’ve loved proclaimed its impending close, the thread lit up with all the cherished menu items we’d never taste again. “What about that salmon salad?” one said. “And those Italian nachos with chicken—they were the best!” cried another.
My husband and I never got over Fuddrucker’s leaving the area. They not only had the best burgers, but also amazing desserts—not to mention a mini-golf course out back. We were raising our young family then and it was the perfect spot for our children with plenty of wiggle room. For years after its close, we’d seek out the Twin Cities version during visits there, until theirs, too, vanished.
Our lamentations, though seemingly petty, reveal something important. Food, while essential for our existence, also has social, and even spiritual, dimensions to it. At a recent conference highlighting the Eucharist, Monsignor James Shea called food a “sacrament;” a visible sign pointing to an invisible reality.
I remember coming home from college and begging for my favorite meals. The recipes I’d loved as a kid had memories attached to them, and having the chance to savor them again brought joy and renewed connection.
There’s much to say about the spiritual and emotional aspects of food, and why the closing of yet another café brings true sorrow. We can speak of economic implications, work ethic changes, and the importance of memory and being fed. But there’s more, as a friend recently reminded me.
A waiter, he shared that when people go out to eat, they desire feeling valued, loved and welcomed. But, according to him, the political divide of our country has even reached the food industry. Though servers ought to receive all as guests equally, and be impartial, seeking to connect their humanity with their guests’ humanity, he added, that’s not always happening.
A few years ago, I came across the book, “Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love.” The title alone still speaks to me and seems to be what my waiter friend was getting at.
We see it played out in the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan when an unlikely stranger bends down to help someone in need; someone others had bypassed.
What if, as my friend insinuated, the seemingly simple act of serving food were a ministry, a way to bring Christ to others? And what if we patrons demonstrated radical hospitality by treating those who serve us with dignity?
Pope Benedict XVI, in commenting on the abovementioned story, once said, “…we always need God, who makes himself our neighbor so that we can become neighbors.”
As we watch some of our favorite restaurants disappear, perhaps we can consider how to be better neighbors to those still here, recalling that food is a sacrament, and that radical hospitality is something we all have the capacity to practice.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 17, 2022.]