When I heard poet Kwame Dawes talk at Pensacola State, he spoke of the lyrical genius of Bob Marley. Dawes described “cornmeal porridge” and a live recording of Marley in London. Cornmeal porridge, Dawes explained, is poor man’s food in Jamaica, a sweet hot cereal made with coconut milk. In London when Bob Marley sings “No Woman No Cry,” and comes to the line “Then we would cook cornmeal porridge” the recording picks up happy cheers of Jamaicans in the crowd reacting to the mention of their native comfort food.
After his talk at the college, Dawes joined nine of us for lunch at Five Sisters Café. As we dined on comfort food at Five Sisters – black-eyed peas, fried okra, fried chicken, blackened fish, cheese grits – we talked of serious issues openly and honestly. Local documentary filmmaker, Robin Reshard, posed the idea of a “conversation” in Pensacola about race relations, perhaps with Kwame Dawes facilitating. Dawes, a native of Ghana, replied by explaining how South Africa went about healing after apartheid.
And our conversation continued over comfort desserts – pecan cobbler, blueberry bread pudding, ice cream.
Two days later, the University of West Florida hosted in $100-a-bowl fundraiser called Gospel and Gumbo. Hundreds of people pay $100 to hear the choir of St. Michael’s, the historic Creole church, eat a bowl of gumbo and support a good cause. Like Bob Marley’s cornmeal porridge, certain foods bring out the best in people.
What foods, I wonder, would it take to have American communities sit down, eat and just talk about important things? No yelling, no screaming, no angry words. Just nice conversations on serious topics. Gumbo will work in the South.
Food brings on the healing in more ways than one.
Let’s get together and feel alright. Listen to Bob Marley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyPMc38Q5Bc