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Tis the season for food to connect us
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For the majority of Turlockers, preparing grand feasts for the holidays is nothing new. But a deeper, often overlooked and undervalued, power of those feasts may come as a surprise.

The fact is, in any food, mixed in with the pinch of spice and seasoning is the unique ingredient of unification. Food brings together world leaders, as they may convene at a dinner over the Millennium Development Goals. Food draws together communities, as fundraisers for constructing school facilities or renovating parts of town may take the form of luncheons. Food unifies neighbors, as they may organize annual potlucks to warmly welcome the newcomers on the block. And indeed, food fastens together families, as they may allot a few precious moments of each day to cultivate their backyard gardens.

Of course, food is necessary for any human’s basic bodily functions, but its ability to replenish the withering roots that intertwine us all is truly remarkable. It pushes past the boundaries between nations, genders, age groups, and cultures. It serves as both a deep solace during our most troubling times and as a positive stimulator during our merriest moments. It bridges the gaps in seemingly every aspect — the familiar aromas appeal to our senses, the savory tastes satisfy our stomachs, and the universality of it all nourishes our companionships.

For instance, I can recall one memorable Christmas Eve when my cooking-enthusiast aunt requested that each family member bring a written version of his or her favorite recipe as well as a small serving to share with the group. We spent the entire holiday evening cutting and pasting these recipes into a scrapbook while humorously critiquing each others’ dishes at the same time.

I’m confident that many people can locate some aspect to reckon with in this. Whether one celebrates the season with friends, family, coworkers, or others near and dear, in virtually any gathering can be found people who take great pride in their signature platters that took many a year to master. In some form or another, children may gather around the warm glow of the fireplace to delight in the classic tale "The Gingerbread Man," as they themselves prepare a plateful of cookies for Santa Claus. The adults may be found stopping by the kitchen at intervals to contribute their own unique flavors to the traditional holiday dish, be it roasted turkey or steamed tamales.

Clearly, the method of celebrating the season can be beautifully varied, but in nearly all cases, the underpinnings of food bolster and bind the very souls of those involved in the festivity. I believe that this rings especially true in our town, for considering the agricultural roots of Turlock, the concept of food bringing a people together runs wide and deep.

This concept was reinforced this past Friday when I, with a group of nearly 15 other teenagers, walked alongside the Turlock Fire Department float at Turlock’s 34th annual Christmas Parade. Clad in festive Christmas sweaters, colored lights, and Santa hats, we distributed an assortment of candy to the hundreds of children ribboning down Main Street.

But perhaps the memory I can savor the most from this experience was sculpting sweet bonds with the town’s young ones as I watched them sit cross-legged on the curbside and delightedly cup their hands as I gifted them the sweet treats in the merriest spirit I could muster. Of course, it is a timeless truth that even the mere thought of candy thrills children, but I still sensed a more powerful force at play. Distributing the candy was akin to passing out tokens of the season’s spirit. Spreading the sweetness encompassed in the cellophane-wrapped treats was one of various ways to effectively seal the deal for happy holidays ahead.

All things considered, for the folks still searching for some element to spice up this holiday season, let it be known that the recipe for cheer may very well consist of simply enjoying a meal with those near and dear and reaping its bonding power. As the late César Chávez, cofounder of the National Farm Workers Association and champion of unification, put it, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him...the people who give you their food give you their heart.”

  — Henna Hundal is a high school student and resident of Turlock. She writes a monthly column on matters related to youth and society.