I had a Bible professor in undergrad who would regularly refer to the Gospel of Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as “the 600 pound Jesus” because it seems like he is sitting down and eating with people on almost every page. And I think it’s no accident that the author of the Gospel of Luke shared Jesus’ ministry within the context of a community meal. There are theological, ecclesiological, and eschatological reasons that it was important to talk about Jesus sharing meals with everyone. But that’s not the reason for this post, so we’ll have to unpack and explore that some other time. The reason I bring this up today is because of one simple truth that Ethiopians know very well: Sharing a meal can be a powerful experience.
We like to eat food in America. That’s no secret. But the majority of us take food for granted. Sure, we appreciate a really nice meal, but most of us assume that we’re going to have access to three square meals a day. And so we just kind of treat our meals like they really aren’t anything that special.
Not so in Ethiopia.
In Ethiopian culture, there are many who have no certainty about when or even if they’ll have another meal. So when food is offered to you, you eat it. There’s no “No thanks, I’m not hungry.” You eat. And you do it together as a family. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your bloodline is. If you share a table with someone, you are family. It’s a special, powerful, bonding experience that is shared around a plate of food.
When it comes to traditional Ethiopian food, there are no utensils. The food is presented on a large plate for all to share. With your right hand, you tear off a piece of injera, the sourdough crepe-like bread. You take that injera and pinch some of the food. It could be a wot (it’s like a stew), lentils, greens, gomen or some other tasty dish. You use the injera as a utensil. I have to say, it makes eating Ethiopian food a memorable experience.
It’s not uncommon to hand feed each other during the meal. And like I said before, if you’re offered food, you take it. There’s such a strong bond when sharing a meal in Ethiopia. I don’t think we really have any practices like this in America, except maybe the bride and groom sharing a piece of cake at a wedding. But that’s a one-time event. This happens often in Ethiopia. And it’s one of the things I appreciate about Ethiopian culture.
Because of the mystical communal bond we have thanks to sharing meals together, I have a lot of family in Ethiopia. I think that’s pretty amazing.