Food: The Tie That Binds

Matt Hackworth | April 18, 2013

We stood on a street corner, squinting in the morning sun. Me with a video camera, he perched against a wall, cigarette in one hand and his dog’s leash in the other. Even though Gary is homeless, it wasn’t long before we found our common ground. Sweet, hickory-smoked common ground.

“It’s a pulled pork sandwich with a beer-mustard sauce and a three-berry relish,” he told me. “It’s great.”

Even at 9 a.m., after two dark-roast Ventis and a restless night, it sounded delicious: the smell of smoke rising from the pit. Inching forward, ingredient by ingredient, into a beer-and-mustard sauce. The bright finish of fresh berries.

Our eyes were glazed alike in the promise of artisan barbecue, even though we were worlds apart.  I had spent a bit of the morning with Paul Gaffney, a street chaplain who uses a common, weekly shared meal to help those he serves to define their community. Gary – a fellow barbecue aficianado – often serves as chef and says barbecue is a specialty.

The tribe of pit-smokers and flame-kissers is thick with the kindred spirit found across the bowl of sauce recipes and borrowed garnishes. We walk the slow-cooked road. Our connection is beyond the tailgate. Beyond the boundaries of class. Beyond – in this case – whatever injustices drove Gary to the street.

It’s the connection of food that perhaps author Sara Miles summed up best, in our interview with her earlier in the week. “To be able to stick your hands in the Earth, and pull up a carrot, and eat it with another human being, it’s a profound thing,” she says.

I wish I could follow through on Gary and Paul’s invitation to fire up the Weber Kettle grill on an afternoon behind the St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room and share in the preparation and fellowship of smoky pulled-pork goodness. Until then, I’ll have more than the image of a killer barbecue sandwich in my head. I have the connection food provided to another human being.

Matt Hackworth, Director of Marketing and Communications, CWS