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ImageIn the fall of 1971, I was a nursing student sitting in an elective class in the school of architecture entitled, “Multicultural Approach to Community Problem-solving” at The University of Texas. The class met in the evenings and as I sat awaiting the professor’s arrival, I couldn’t help taking note of my classmates. To one side were a group of guys wearing brown berets chatting away in Spanish. In another area of the room sat a group of African-American kids, silent and brooding. There were a few white kids looking all the more fratty by comparison. It was U.T. after all. The professor, a middle age Negro man, strode in and begin speaking in rapid-fire Spanish…and kept speaking and kept speaking in Spanish for more than forty-five minutes. I began to wonder if I was in the wrong class. The Hispanic kids were cued in but the rest of us listened, left out.

At last he, Dr. Reynell Parkins, shifted into English to introduce himself as an Anglican priest, raised in Central America. Some forty years later, I can say that Dr. Parkins changed my life…and I suspect the lives of each person in that class.

Dr. Parkins and a class discussion came to mind this week. Back in the early 1970s, free school lunch and even free breakfast programs had just become part of the War on Poverty’s arsenal. We were surprised that Dr. Parkins would take issue with the concept. How, we wondered, could any kid be expected to learn with an empty tummy? Just then, Dr. Parkins began to wax eloquent about the importance of a child being fed by a parent. Being fed by a stranger is different, he maintained, than having your mom’s or dad’s hand attached to the plate, your parent’s attention and time as you sit down together. He insisted that we consider having parents involved in making and serving breakfast to their own kids, even if only volunteering once a month. Imagine, he went on, how it feels to a kid to walk through the school breakfast line and say, “Hi Mom. See that one? She’s MY MOM!

I had a young child that year. I understood what he was saying.

Forty plus years later, I still think of Dr. Parkins and a parent’s hand feeding his or her child.This week, I fed my kids and some of their friends. We grilled hamburgers, sliced garden fresh tomatoes, chowed down on icy watermelon and succulent peaches. Earlier in the day, they’d ask if we were going to get the burgers at the drive-through. “Nope,” I replied. Our burgers were smokey with flavor but the real nourishment came from making dinner together (a sloppy affair to be certain) AND from relishing the eating and the conversation as we lounged around the supper table. (NOTE: from my mom, the difference between “dinner” and “supper” is that for supper, the mayonaise stays in the jar!)

After dinner, I wondered… I mean, really wondered, if something different biologically happens when we receive food, eat, from the hands of someone who loves us. Does it matter? The more I learn about the mystical ways of the body, the more convinced I am that it DOES matter. It’s not that the proteins, the calories, the calcium, etc change. But knowing how our gut connects to our brain, I believe that the body and soul know “nourished” from “fed.” Our head takes note that our mom or our friend or our dad took time to prepare and serve us. And perhaps that is also why some of us are “satisfied” and can happily stop eating…we have been more than fed; we have been nourished.

With the beginning of the school year upon us, I invite you to give just one quick thought to the difference between being fed and being nourished.

Which is it that you hope to accomplish for your kids?

What’s for dinner?