In the Bible story of the Prodigal Son, a young man takes his inheritance and leaves home to find adventure in a distant land. It doesn’t go well; after blowing all his money, he ends up as a starving hired hand. His only available meal is the pig food he is feeding to the porkers in his care.
Albeit under very different circumstances, I occasionally found myself eating food meant for the hungry piggies on our own farm. As I further reflect on my past gastronomical memories, I must include this story. Gramps would make weekly trips to a Toronto wholesale bakery—perhaps it was Weston’s or Brown’s Bread. He loaded his old Ford stake truck with their unwanted baked goods: cakes that were partly crushed in production, raison buns that were too stale to be sold, fruit pies that failed quality inspection—and of course, dozens of loaves of bread with torn or missing wrappers.
My growing adolescent body was permanently hungry. When his truck arrived home and pulled into the drive shed, I was granted first pickings. Climbing over these piles of food deemed unworthy for store shoppers, I could always be rewarded by digging out a boxed chocolate cake, mostly flattened but still edible, or discovering a wrapped maple donut that was three days old but still tasty. The waiting animals then had their turn for dinner. The rest of the load was dumped into a huge cauldron, mixed with water and poured into wooden troughs. Local farmers referred to this homemade recipe as “pig slop.”
Eventually, I grew up, stopped eating pig food, but continued to scrounge whenever possible. During my University years in Iowa, part of my athletic scholarship included a cushy job in the school’s cafeteria. Strategically stationed at the window where students deposited their trays following each meal, I efficiently scraped off plates before loading the big industrial dishwasher. I could also grab and rescue any leftovers: apples, bananas, uneaten desserts rejected by diet-conscious women. I habitually left my work post with pockets stuffed with treasured loot to be squirrelled away in my tiny off-campus room for late night munchies.
Later, as a Toronto bachelor and working man without kitchen skills, I survived mostly on Swanson TV dinners, alternating between tasty fried chicken and roast beef varieties. Fortunately, the newly-opened psychiatric hospital where I was employed had a spacious staff cafeteria where I could supplement my caloric and nutrient intake at a very reasonable price. Eventually, marriage provided me once again with the unbeatable delights of actual home-made meals—every bite as delectable as my dear mother’s cooking (my wife is currently looking over my shoulder).
One of the perks of my life as a family enrichment minister was the abundant delights of pot luck dinners. When I led marriage or parenting seminars during a weekend workshop, in big cities or small towns, I was always blessed with the best gourmet offerings that women (and sometimes men) could create from their own kitchens and proudly bring to the church basement for our communal Saturday night dinner.
I eagerly consumed fish ‘n’ brew in Cornerbrook NF/Lab., sampled Afro-Caribbean specialties in Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital city and experienced fresh-caught smoked salmon on Vancouver Island.
Dare I mention desserts? During these almost-decedent repasts, It was painfully difficult for me to follow “in the steps of Jesus.” Given the anticipatory long lines-up for the pies and cakes, I was typically invited as the guest Rev. to “go up to the front.” Despite that formidable temptation of having first crack at the most enticing treats, I would hear my inner voice whispering: “What would Jesus do?” Of course, I knew the answer from his own words: ” —the first shall be last and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35)
I dutifully took my place at the end of the line, trying to remain indifferent, hiding inner waves of anxiety as all the remaining servings of my favourite Mississippi-mud, whipped cream chocolate pie were being grabbed one by one from the dessert table. I confess to deep feelings of envy as each person (mostly male) sauntered by, their paper plates sagging under the weight of several sugary treats.
Next morning in the Sunday church service, I studiously avoided preaching about the sin of gluttony.