Missions & the Clean Plate Club

I am a member of the clean plate club.

Having been down to Oaxaca several times now, one of the first things Dave Miller tells the groups is “you eat whatever is put in front of you.”   

Especially in Oaxaca, the 2nd poorest state in Mexico.  Adventures in Life ministers alongside the local church and long term missionaries working with and among the Oaxacan people, many who are of Zapotec ancestry.

They appreciate the work of Adventures in Life and as much as they can, they want to show their gratitude.  Sometimes that’s in the form of crafts and textiles that they make, most times it’s in the form of food.

Homemade tamales!

So that means at meals whatever is cooked, we eat.  All cooking is done with bottled water in Mexico, and they use safe cooking practices just like anyone else.  You might even say the food, especially the meat, is safer to eat, since its fresh from the market.  And when we visit folks, the families will often cook large meals for us, more food than they normally eat, just for us.  And it would be rude not to eat the food prepared for us.

This rule of eating whatever is placed in front you, applies not only with our hosts but just about anywhere we go where food is offered to us.  Cyndy, trying her best to enjoy… some homemade tejate

The photo of Cyndy and the gal making tamales were taken at the same place.  Cyndy, Terry and I were waiting for the rest of the group to meet us at the church in San Baltazar.  The neighbors invited us to come and visit with them while we were waiting.

I remember looking at Cyndy and saying something like “you know if they offer us food we have to eat it…”

Cyndy is no stranger to missions, but she is used to the type of mission trips where you don’t eat anything local if you can help it.  Especially food prepared by someone you “don’t know,” as in the case of the tejate.  It was early in the morning and they offered us some tejate…she “enjoyed” it as best as she could.  Since she knew she couldn’t say no.

Now you may be thinking, it’s wise not to eat food your not sure of…and I would say that’s correct.

I remember the first time I ever ate dinner at a friends house, I must have been in 4th grade.  When we sat down for dinner, we had chicken fried steak with some sort of veggie on the side.  That’s it!  I remember watching them eat and me wondering, “where’s the rice?”

After getting over the shock of eating dinner with no rice, since Filipino’s eat rice with chicken fried steak, I enjoyed my dinner and ate everything in front of me.  Since that’s what my folks told me…”eat whatever is placed in front of me.”  Don’t want to be rude!

We don’t want to be rude.  We are guests in their country.

I recently went on a missions trip to Central America…and the group brought their own dry food goods and cooks.  They bought their meat in town.  The whole week we ate “american food.”  In the middle of this beautiful country in Central America, we were eating spaghetti, chili, pancakes and sausage, and other home town favorites.  The food was great, the cooks were awesome.  But I remember walking by the dining hall of the place we were staying, the “locals” were eating dinner, and it smelled delicious.  I wanted to eat dinner with them!

There’s more to this story and I’m trying to be careful not accuse or say anyone did anything wrong…but I remember thinking this didn’t feel right.

Part of why Dave has us all eat the food the “locals” eat, is to help us understand them and get a small glimpse as to what their lives are like.  It also serves as a way for us to earn their respect and trust, by our willingness to eat “their” food.  Plus, the food is awesome!

I think that too often, missions groups are afraid to partake and eat the foods of those they are trying to minister to.  Bringing our own cooks and food, in a way is rude.  Saying non verbally that the food of the “locals” is not good enough.  Though unintentionally, this is the message we are sending.  That’s a shame…


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