I love food. It’s something I inherited from my dad: my love for food. Trying new foods, enjoying favorites as much as possible, indulging in sweets probably too often, and savoring every second. Enjoying these moments with others make it all even more special. So, I count the opportunity to share food with our students as quite the privilege.
However, food can be a sore subject with our students. Due to some budget constraints in past years, pizza has been the primary provider of FATE meals. I’m grateful to Happy’s on Livernois in Detroit for the many meals they have provided, reducing the rate and offering free delivery. They’ve allowed us to keep the promise of a meal each week. Full bellies make way for stronger productivity.
Thanks to some fundraising, grant-getting, and growth over the last several months, though, it’s a whole new world. It’s true, pizza can get mundane, but it’s also familiar — food all our students have seen before, have tasted before, and therefore, know what to expect when the red boxes line our counters. So when we catered lunch from Cedarland Restaurant in Dearborn, and those red boxes were replaced with foil trays filled with chicken shawarma, beef, falafel, rice, hummus, pita bread, and fattoush, there were a lot of questions.
One student immediately told me this was his favorite type of food and he was SO excited!! But, the greater majority, approached the counter with caution.
“Ms. Kuhu, what is that?”
As a lover of food, and also what some may call a “pusher” of food, I was all too eager to encourage each of them to try EVERYTHING. Some obliged, some didn’t, and one was the most cautious of all.
Jayden is perhaps the quietest student we’ve ever had. So much so, that even in his second year of the program, we’re still working on getting him to feel comfortable with us. While I’ve caught Jayden laughing with some of the other students on a rare occasion or two, for the most part, he enjoys some solitude. I pride myself on reaching the point of goofy that can make anyone comfortable, and “break” with a smile, chuckle, or at least an eye roll, but Jayden won’t have any of that. His reactions are minimal, if at all.
As he approached the counter, he put one piece of chicken on his plate and brought the plate to his nose to smell it. He proceeded to add just a couple more pieces and some rice and walked over to his table, seemingly dissatisfied with the selection this afternoon.
When we called for seconds, however, Jayden was back at the counter with what I think (hope?) was a wide (I swear I saw his teeth at least) smile. The students around him were talking about how much Jayden loved the food. I asked, “Jayden, what’d you think?”
“This is absolutely amazing.”
Not a quick under-the-breath “it’s good,” or “I like it.” But, “absolutely amazing.” The joy in my heart. Explosive. Mind you, there was no exclamation. But the clear, definitive, absolute answer, was enough. I learned later that while he was eating that first plate he actually turned to his mentor and said those exact words too.
Food means a lot to me. And I treasure the fact that in FATE, “exposure,” can transcend our program content.