Food as a Site of Connectivity
By Dr Eunice Otuko Apio
The three weeks of our scoping visit to Colombia has finally ended. And I am leaving behind a rich cuisine of food, juice and hot drinks. During our meetings interactions with Colombians, eating together was a common ritual. “Would you like a drink? A coffee? A fruit?” always started the day for us, even before we took our seats. Muchas gracias. They were juices from various herbs and fruits only Colombia can boost of. The CSRS team often made sure these foods were available to research participants.
Together, we consumed a variety of fruits, flowers and leaves as juice and tea. In fact, food became an important ritual in all our meetings. Not only to quench thirst, or appease eaters’ appetite. But for a much higher purpose. To help the team build mutual connections and trust with participants. As we ate, we connected and words flowed naturally. And in our last meeting in Medellin, we connected so well with three survivors that one of them felt at ease to gather the remainder of the fruits and take them with her. This singular act made me feel the depth of the connection we had made in the two hours we had conversed, sipped juices and ate fruit. One could now act freely. It was like she wanted to take a part of our connection with her – to hold on to it, to be with it. I felt we had crafted a lasting connection. After all, didn’t David Goldstein in his reflection of eating in the Merchant of Venice (2013:78) argue that eating together “can indeed be the very essence of the social bonding that produces the multifarious structures of human community and identity?” Most importantly, the CSRS team wants a shared platform with research participants – wants them to feel they are ‘participating’ and not just providing information for the study. This is one of the study’s contributions to human rights due diligence in researching with people; enabling participants to shape spaces for their own participation. Still, it could have been a different kind of ‘connection’.
Right from Bosnia and Herzegovina, we had seen that a glass of drink, a bite into a cookie, mediated the awkwardness of moments. It calmed down participants in the middle of our questionnaires.
Perhaps these foods served a yet higher purpose for the eaters. Many of the survivors of sexual violence we met had expressed, with nostalgia, the things they had lost as they fled for their lives during the war – farmlands, homes, businesses, social networks, friends. Perhaps these foods held particular significance in their lives. Perhaps people felt a connection with their pasts through these foods. Perhaps the food – its aroma, its taste, the bulge of the tummy – took them back to a time when they relished the same foods. When times were better and they had plenty to eat and not much to worry about.
Perhaps, the foods reminded them of the present. Many stated to us how they struggled to meet their everyday basic needs. In the supermarkets uptown, one could see rich stacks of fruit and other foods – made in Colombia. It is hardly possible that such an endowed country cannot afford to feed its population. But who knows?
Food and its eating show the human face of the intractable war in Colombia. Food is a site of connecting. War separates people from this important source of connectivity. When the displaced can no longer rely on their own land and forests to meet their food needs, it is only fitting that spaces such as those provided by the CSRS project help honour such connections.
 David B. Goldstein, Eating and Ethics in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 78.