Chaplaincy ‘Food & Faith’ event offers reflection, community building

Goddard Chapel is photographed during snowfall. Ava Iannuccillo / The Tufts Daily
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On Monday night, the University Chaplaincy offered an opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to gather in Barnum Hall for dinner and small-group discussion in an event called “Food & Faith: A People’s Supper.” The event, organized by the Interfaith Student Council, was co-sponsored by the Interfaith Community of Faith, Exploration, and Engagement; the Palmier; and the Fletcher Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy.

Shelby Carpenter, chaplaincy program coordinator and Interfaith Student Council advisor, noted that the event was designed to be as accessible to students of different faith backgrounds as possible.

We have catered the food from Zhu Pan-Asian Vegan in Arlington, MA, which is an all vegan and kosher certified kitchen,Carpenter wrote in a statement to the Daily. “As we had to reschedule this program after the loss of a community member in March, we also adjusted the program’s timing so that it occurs after sundown. … We hope that this adjustment will make space for anyone observing Ramadan to break their fast with us and take part in the event.

The event began with a brief welcome and introduction from Carpenter. Dr. Preeta Banerjee, Hindu advisor at Tufts, led participants in a centering breathing exercise before sharing a reflection on modakas, a food appearing in Hindu tradition in the story of Ganesh and the moon. University Chaplain Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger then reflected on how she views breaking bread and eating with people that may have been viewed as outside of society as part of the radical acts of Jesus in the Gospel. 

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After hearing these reflections, participants were invited to continue their meals and begin discussions with each other in small groups, centered around discussion questions provided by the Interfaith Student Council. The discussion followed a model established by the organization The People’s Supper.

Arielle Klein, Sam Gulley and Lydia Kresin were the Interfaith Student Council members in charge of organizing the event. Kresin explained why they used this model.

The People’s Supper model is something that we had for a retreat for the Interfaith Student Council, and that model of bringing people together with food [was what] we wanted to replicate,Kresin said. 

Carpenter elaborated on the model’s utility for celebrating multiple cultures at once.

This dialogue style centers bridging differences as a main function of its model, uplifting food as a key entry point of honoring differences and seeing similarities between different religious and cultural communities,” Carpenter wrote. 

Discussion questions guided participants to think about memories of food at family religious or cultural holidays as well as stories from their faith traditions about coming together over a meal. Participants also had a chance to reflect on times when food made them feel connected to the world around them and ways they felt that food, food access and food justice may connect

After wrapping up their discussions, participants were invited to fill out a card with a “food memory” (a drawing, story, recipe or other artwork based on their memories and discussions) to be included in a book of communal artwork.

We wanted something that was kind of an artifact of this,” Kresin said. “I think recipe books, in the various ways people have them in families, can be meaningful for generations, and so we thought it’d be a cool way for people to share recipes or just memories and stories, drawings, anything. … We will assemble [the food memory book] this week, and then I believe it will be in Goddard Chapel. So anyone can stop by.

Sponsoring clubs offered announcements at the end of the event, offering future opportunities for participants to continue to engage in community through food or through faith. 

The Palmier always tries to give a platform to anyone who wants to tell their story and how it relates to food,” Megan Houchin, editor in chief of the Palmier, wrote in an email to the Daily. “Food really does bring people together, so we are really thrilled to be included in tonight’s event.

Based on the volume of conversations in the room, student organizers felt their goal of fostering discussion between community members of different backgrounds was achieved.

I think it was cool for people to see how they’re actually all so similar but then also how much those individual foods mean to you across cultures,” Kresin said. So many people came, and it seemed like conversations were lively, which is really exciting.

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