Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Liberation Lasagna

I spent part of the morning making vegetarian lasagnas--tomorrow my suburban church goes to the downtown church to feed the destitute. I could have taken the easy way out and bought something from the grocery freezer. But that's ghastly expensive, and it wouldn't have taken care of one of our guests who can't eat meat.

I started experimenting with vegetarian food when I was 14 years old. We lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we often had UVa students over to eat as part of our church's campus ministry outreach. Some of them were vegetarian, and some of them baked their own bread, and over meals, we talked about these things. I haven't been the same since.

When I started cooking vegetarian food as a teenager, my mom was scared that the family wouldn't get enough protein, so I tried to boost protein content where I could. I remember making a vegetarian lasagna with ground up kidney beans as one of the layers.

Now I don't worry too much about protein, what with the ricotta cheese and other cheeses. Excess protein is a far greater problem for most Americans than protein deficiency.

A year ago, when we made ziti as our first meal for the urban church, I thought about that, and decided that the largely homeless population probably needed as much protein as I could give them. I made a ziti casserole with meat. That's when we met our guest who can't eat meat, and I resolved always to have a vegetarian option on hand (luckily, someone else had made a vegetarian ziti that night).

I still take shortcuts that would horrify my younger self. I didn't make the sauce from scratch--I don't have that kind of life right now. Much of my cooking consists of putting vegetables and some protein in a pot in interesting combinations and letting it cook for awhile when I'm doing other things. On really busy days, my cooking consists of cooking pasta and opening a jar of sauce--but that's still a better option than fast food. On really busy days, the kind that makes up my December, I gulp down a bowl of cereal and take a multi-vitamin and hope for the best--and that's still a better option than fast food.

Today, as I cooked lasagna, I reflected on how nice it was to be cooking again, a real main dish from mostly scratch. I reflected on how much I enjoy cooking for others and serving them food. I especially enjoy it when I know that the ones I'm serving have so little opportunity to sit down to a real meal, to have coffee and dessert, to linger as long as they'd like. I wrote that sentence thinking about the homeless guests who will eat dinner tomorrow night--but it really describes most of us these days.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he created his ministry that revolved around the table. If we can get people to slow down enough to eat together, we might change the world.

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