Food is the ingredient that binds us all together. We know this from family meals, holidays, ceremonies, spending time with friends, etc. We all lead busy lives, and sitting down for a meal is usually a nice way to slow down a bit and enjoy ourselves. For the members of the UP Wayfinders group, our days are packed with different leadership activities, outdoor work, and travel. And most of the time we will get split up into different groups to complete our daily tasks. But as this busy and exciting program continues to roll on, there is one part of the day where we can always count on being together – and that is our evening meals!
Feeding eighteen people is no easy task. It was definitely a struggle to grocery shop with a healthy mindset, while also maintaining a budget and making sure we come out with the correct portions for everyone. Sometimes we had way too much, while other days left a few people with growling stomachs. We make sure to accommodate for the vegetarians and people with food allergies in the group as well. The first couple of days were a bit turbulent with buying and preparing the food for everyone, but now we definitely have a strong grasp on it. Breakfast usually consists of cereal, toast, and eggs, with a side of drowsiness. And our lunches vary from day to day, but generally end up being homemade sandwiches. Dinner time is something everyone in the group looks forward to, as it is an opportunity for us to get creative and have some fun.
We did have a cheat day on the drive from Raglan to Lake Taupo, where Subway and McDonald’s managed to make its way into our bellies. Some New Zealand treats called Tim Tam’s and Earnest Adam’s cookies have become a staple in our diet as well through our snacking weaknesses.
This week we are staying at the Hart Family Farm, and we have been eating like royalty. Rachel Hart has been helping us prepare some incredible meals, and almost all of the produce comes fresh from the farm. From pasta casserole, vegetable curry, soup and scones, and homemade pizza. And don’t forget about the handmade bread that we baked daily. The Hart’s have a beautiful kitchen, and Rachel is a very good teacher in helping us navigate through new recipes and different appliances.
While on kitchen duty, a lot of great conversations, dancing, and bonding occurs. We rotate in groups of four-five to prepare meals for that day, and each cooking group is responsible for coming up with a question that everyone has to answer before we sit down to eat. If you could be any animal, what would you be? If you could live in any time period in history, when would it be? What has been your favorite part of the trip thus far? Etc. This is just a fun way to kick off our evening dining experience, and gives us a good excuse to be reflective about our day, or just be silly and have some fun.
Something fun for us Wayfinders is when other people join in on our dinners. This includes Eck — the friendly Scottsman. Some French Woofers, who are living and working on the farm, and the entire Hart Family. During our time in Raglan, Maddi and Elijah, Tiaki and Tawhai, and even the Maori aunties joined us. It is a big Thanksgiving feast for all of us and our new friends. It is also a time where our Kiwi friends can get a look at what our American culture consists of. We like to talk about our families back home and our different experiences at the University of Portland. I think our New Zealand hosts get a kick out of hearing about our different and unique lives back in the states, rather than just seeing news from their televisions and computers.
A big part of what we are learning during our time in Aotearoa (New Zealand) is environmental awareness and sustainable living. And eating a healthy diet directly correlates to environmental stewardship and protecting the planet. Meat production on farms across the globe normally is a major cause for carbon emissions into the atmosphere, along with inhumane treatment of animals. So eating a more plant based diet is not only healthier for you, but also healthier for the environment. Our host, Greg, made sure to remind us to not cut out meat completely from our plates though. In fact, we should be eating a little meat because the grazing and waste that comes from cows, pigs, sheep, and other animals is necessary for farms and Earth’s soil to stay rich and regenerate crops. We currently consume WAY too much meat though, so we need to cut down and make sure we buy from farms that treat their animals well!
Since we have been eating healthier and having a consistent three meals a day, I think a lot of us have noticed a boost in our energy levels while we are out and about. And when it is time to come together for our evening meal, it is great to see everyone’s smiling faces around the dinner table. We talk about everything under the moon, and get to know each other, and our hosts, on a more genuine level. Each day we are becoming more full. Not just from the good food we are putting into our bodies, but also from the discussion, laughter, and love we continue to pour into each other every time we come together for a meal.