In the last several weeks I have traveled by plane, bus, train, car, 4 wheel drive and camel to exotic and bustling Marrakech, the calm toast -colored sands of the Sahara, a piercingly sunny, calm day in London, a chilly St. Louis, MO., sultry and humid Miami, the traffic jammed streets of Atlanta, colorful Asheville, N.C. near the Smoky Mountains and back the Hudson Valley just in time to witness the last of the Fall foliage. I’ve awakened to a brilliant sunrise, the sounds of songbirds, horns, kids playing, roosters crowing, dogs barking and the call to prayer.  Every place and every day has been unique. Yet, there are similarities.

The people I have met along the way may look different and dress different and think differently from me. Their age may range from 20s to 80s. They may live in mansions, planned communities, condos, hotels and nomadic tents.  But we have all connected over the communal table through eating and drinking and sharing stories.

Food brings people together. Food shares cultures. Food can both appease and please those who either resist you or embrace you. The fork and the knife are tools to bring people together as much as to break food apart. Weapons of mass consumption for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.

I pity people who treat food as the enemy or who fear it. Too many,  women in particular, have a love-hate relationship with food.  I’ve been down that road and dealt with my own dining demons. Growing up I was told “a man likes to marry a good cook.” Yet my mother hated to cook, and my father worshipped her. I never learned to cook. I was told “men don’t like fat women.” So I was obsessed with my weight and starved myself. Yet, my mother was plentiful in size, and my father worshipped her.  I was told chocolate would make my face break out, so gave it up as a teenager battling acne. It didn’t make one bit of difference. I grew up where women had Jell-O laced with canned fruit cocktail and men had chocolate cake for dessert.  When people asked me what inspired me to go in to the food and beverage profession I say, “to learn about good food after growing up with bad food.”

After working in the food and beverage profession for thirty years and experiencing my own food highs (memorable meals shared with friends old and new)and lows (being unable to enjoy any food while undergoing cancer treatment and some pretty scary travel moments) I’ve come to view food as a source of nourishment, pleasure, culture and community in all its forms. I am less obsessed with finding the next hot new restaurant and more comfortable enjoying a meal with new and old friends when I  travel or return home. I was as pleased with my homemade tagine in the home of a Berber family in a small home off the grid in the Moroccan outback or the steamed snails from the food stall at the Djemaa Al Fna square as the beautifully executed mezze, cous cous and b’stilla in the elegant restaurant at the Riad Maison Arabe in Marrakech. At each meal, the company was as nourishing and inspiring as the food I tasted.

I often wonder: Maybe if more leaders and politicos and feuding partiers sat around a dinner table rather than a bare bargaining table we’d come to terms and decisions faster with less heartburn for the rest of us.