Yim Soon and I have been watching the Korean version of ‘Love Island’ and I’ve been struck by one fundamental difference between the shows.
I’ve occasionally watched ‘Love Island’ with our daughter who, like many twenty-somethings, is a big fan. The basic premise is that a group of young men and a group of young women are put together on an exotic island and expected to pair up. Now and again a new man or woman is brought in to keep everyone on their toes, and those who don’t manage to find a partner are booted off! The couples who make it to the final episode are subject to a public vote and the winner gets a big cash prize, which they may or may not choose to share with their partner! It’s all a bit odd but perhaps the oddest thing for me is that during the several weeks that they are on the island we never, ever see them eating. There is a pool-side bar where they hang out sometimes and plot their mating strategies but amidst all the preening and posturing and coupling and un-coupling and general angst and heartbreak not so much as a packet of crisps is opened and shared.
By contrast, food is at the very heart of the Korean show; in which, similar to the UK original, much of the action takes place on or near a sandy beach. It’s called ‘Single’s Inferno’ because in order to get off the island you have to get a date, in which event you both go off to so-called paradise for the night! A meal is always at the centre of the date, whether it’s in a swanky hotel or on a yacht. The three couples who got to go on the ‘Romantic Yacht Date’ seemed to do nothing else than eat, although one of the girls got sea-sick and wasn’t able to eat anything! Meanwhile, those left on the island are supplied with ingredients to cook for themselves. Although they all look a bit miserable to start with due to not getting picked for a date, they get to work together in their beach shack cum kitchen and some delicious looking meals have been produced, so much so that Yim Soon is convinced that one of the contestants must be a professional chef! They get a nice, healthy-looking breakfast provided as well; and what a view they have from the breakfast bar! Notwithstanding the disappointment they must be feeling, it seems to me that it’s not the end of the world to be left single on the island! I don’t know how the Korean version is going to end but one thing is for sure: there are lots more mouth-watering displays of food in store.
The sharing of food is such a central part of our hospitality to one another, and in the building of relationships and community. It involves much love and care and creativity and generosity. It brings people together, conveys thoughtfulness, and shows concern. It is at the heart of our religious and other rituals, be they celebrations of life or of death. There is an intimacy in the sharing of food, and something that is both deeply human and profoundly sacred. The words of Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ about mercy could equally be applied to food: ‘It is twice blest: it blesseth he or she that gives and he or she that takes’. There’s a lovely story told by Robert Runcie about the time when as Archbishop of Canterbury he celebrated a Eucharist with the L’Arche Liverpool community. He gave communion to a learning-disabled man, also called Robert, who promptly broke the host and gave half back to his namesake. Runcie said that this gesture spoke more to him about the meaning of communion than any amount of theological books on the subject. A similar tale is told by Donald Nicholl in one of his books. As a boy he was out for a day’s walk with his dad on the Yorkshire Pennines and they only had two apples for lunch. The young Donald ate his and then his dad, seeing that his son was still hungry, broke his apple in two and gave him half. This left an indelible memory on Nicholl.
One of the things I’m looking forward to post-Covid is the bacon and cabbage meals we’ll be having again with groups of Travellers in prison. So too the tea and mince pies we’ll hopefully be getting in the care homes when we’re allowed in again to sing carols at Christmas.
We managed at the Irish Chaplaincy to have our staff Christmas meal at the start of December, just before renewed restrictions were about to be introduced and having missed the event in 2020. It was utterly delightful to share the food and one another’s company. I was pleased when in 2021 the Lunch Club at the Irish Centre began to operate again (although they’d done a fantastic job throughout the pandemic of delivering hundreds of meals to people). I was invited as a special guest to the Clonakilty Irish breakfast in November and had a ball. Then I had the pleasure of attending the Christmas lunch and was seated at a table with a group of women from every corner of Ireland and they were wonderful company. Our table even won the Christmas quiz which, to use a good old culinary metaphor, was the icing on the cake! During my subsequent Christmas holiday, one of the highlights for me was preparing, and eating, some special meals for the family. On Christmas Day itself, Yim Soon and I were served up a feast by our children. And I wrote in my last blog of how, at the end of my holiday, I’d had the privilege of being present at an Epiphany banquet in St Paul’s church in Camden Square.
If I was young and looking for romance I wouldn’t want to go near ‘Love Island’ if you paid me, but I could possibly be tempted by ‘Single’s Inferno’, even if I only got to share in the making and eating of the lovely meals on the beach!