Guest Blogger and Free Minds Volunteer Amanda Brown Reflects on Food and Community

Close your eyes as tightly as you can. Clear your mind of the busyness and worries of the day. Now bring to the forefront of your mind your favorite memories. Take a deep breath. Let the oxygen fill your lungs, and you are lost in those happy times. You see familiar faces, hear laughter, and then, deep in the background, scents begin to emerge. Perhaps it’s your grandmother’s menudo, a heavy spicy aroma that hung in the kitchen’s air long after the dish was gone. Maybe it’s the sugary smell of fresh-baked cookies frosted in green and red that you and your family used to hand out as holiday gifts to neighbors and friends. It could even be the faint and fragile hint of citrus from the wine you shared with your husband or wife on your first date. The memories and the smells are as endless and varied as the people on the planet but the joy associated with it is always the same.

Food, as I see it, is the most fundamental and uniting force in the world. Families, communities, all of humankind are tied to one another by a passion and appreciation for food. Time and time again meals have brought people together in good times and bad, fostering cooperation, friendship, and love. The community-building aspect of food is what inspires me as an amateur chef and volunteer to cook meals every Monday and Thursday for Free Minds. This class, including its dedicated staff, professors, students and children, are a community bound together by a commitment to overcoming obstacles and obtaining a meaningful education. It has been an honor and a pleasure to help support this community with a warm-cooked meal twice a week. As my great-grandmother said to me when I was a young girl, clutching her skirt and looking up at her with big eyes, entranced by the goings-on of her country kitchen, “It’s the company, not the cooking, that makes a meal.”

Amanda Brown is an AmeriCorps VISTA member volunteering full-time with the Volunteer Service and Learning Center at The University of Texas at Austin. Her repertoire includes baked ziti, chicken enchiladas, veggie chili and shepherd’s pie.

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