Umoja/Unity: To strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in family, community, nation, and world.” What is unity? Is it the sharing of a single purpose, a single outlook? Is it a shared history? Does diversity strengthen or weaken it? Is it inclusive or exclusive? These are questions that I have been wrestling with lately in both my personal and professional life. Interestingly, many of the conversations I’ve had on the issue have occurred over food. Is this why meals play such an important role during the Kwanzaa celebrations? If the kitchen is the heart of a home, then I propose that the dining table is its lungs.
The idea of a regularly shared dining space with family and loved ones may seem archaic or impractical in today’s fast-paced world, however I think the need for emotional and intellectual connection, ‘breaking bread’, is something that Umoja seeks to highlight. Although in some ways we are more connected than ever before (Facebook, Twitter), these tools often reduce us to ‘surface sharers’, something that communal mealtime seeks to eliminate.
Few things are as healing and unifying as truly hearing another person’s story. I have found that in front of an array of good food and drink generation gaps can dissolve, romance can be rekindled, and cordial acquaintances often discover previously unknown commonalities. As we prepare meals together, and sit and share, we strengthen our homes. As we make more educated food choices we create a ripple effect that strengthens and nourishes our communities.
I see this principle in action every time I patronize my local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Co-Op, see the farmers who supply it and converse with the workers and volunteers who are committed to preserving small-scale agriculture and making organic farming sustainable. While most nights our dinner tables are inward-looking (exclusive) there should also be times when we open our doors, letting others in (inclusive). If the idea of a nightly dinner seems daunting, why not try to implement a weekly one instead? Why not once a month, or once a quarter, set a place for people you may have wanted to get to know better, including friends of your children, spouse and so forth? Is there a community garden in your area you can visit? Is there a CSA you can support?
As we build bridges between those we know, and those we are yet to know, the power and beauty of Umoja unfurls. Unity lies below the surface of life in our interdependence, our collective vulnerability, our collective humanity and the collective responsibility we share towards recognizing and honoring these truths. May this recipe, made possible through local farmers in my area, grace your Kwanzaa tables this year. Hopefully, it can play backdrop to some of your own conversations and discussions on what Umoja means to you.
Sarina’s Ochro Rice
3 cups coconut milk
1 cup boiling water
12 ochroes/okra, chopped into large chunks
2 onions, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 whole hot pepper (habanero or Scotch Bonnet)
2 tsp. green seasoning (or 2 tsp. chopped chive)
A handful of red and green pimento peppers
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 lb. rice
1/4 cup butter or margarine, diced
2 or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Combine coconut milk, bouillon cube, water, onions, ketchup, peppers, green seasoning (or chives) and pulse until chunky.
3. Combine mixture in greased 2-quart casserole dish with ochroes/okra, rice and butter.
4. Cover tightly (either with lid or aluminum foil) and bake for 45 minutes, until all liquid has been absorbed.
5. Fluff to serve.
Sarina is the founder of Trinigourmet.com, an award-winning blog that helps food lovers around the world add a dash of ‘Caribbean Glam’ to their tables. Since 2006, she’s used the power of the Internet to spread awareness of authentic Trinidadian and Caribbean dishes. In seeking to preserve and elevate visual depictions of the region’s culinary heritage, she’s enabled thousands throughout the Diaspora to recreate fond childhood memories. She’s also introduced just as many (if not more) to a cuisine that still remains largely under-promoted and increasingly vulnerable to dilution and misrepresentation. She is the author of the upcoming Trinigourmet’s Glam By Request (40+ Easy Caribbean Recipes). Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.