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Community on the Menu: Seven courses to Cultivate Familial Bonds

Food can keep a neighborhood together

March 9, 2017

It is hard to imagine any event or gathering that does not involve food. Birthday parties, school fundraisers, and any holiday celebration all center around food. It is one that transcends culture, race, and religion.

David Purnell, an adjunct professor at Pierce College (P) campus has written a book due to be published this coming June. It highlights how the simple act of eating a shared meal can connect members of a community.

He first came up with the idea 17 years ago while living in Tampa, FL when he and a friend started meeting with neighbors once a week for potluck dinners. The whole idea was to meet regularly to “break bread together without focus on politics or religion.” Purnell said in an interview.

At first, they started with themed dinners, but it quickly became too big to plan ahead. One idea that stuck and became a tradition was a “clean out your fridge pizza party.” They would set out several pizza dough stations and people would build their pizzas based on whatever was on hand.

Purnell also noted that what make the idea work in his community was lifestyle and neighborhood layout. Houses were older with porticos instead of attached garages. Families weren’t always on the go with sports activities; people coming home didn’t always go straight into the house, so waving “hello” often would lead to catching up. Fences were smaller so it was natural to linger and talk while doing yardwork.

One memorable dinner stands out for Purnell. Because everyone behind him in line was in a hurry to get their plates, he spotted what he thought was fruit salad and scooped some onto his plate without looking at it too close. He then went and sat down across from his good friends Norbert and Oliver. When he took a bite of the salad, instead of sweet fruit, found herring. He promptly spit it out, only to discover that Norbert and Oliver were the ones who brought it. They all had a good laugh but his friends never brought that dish again.

Despite the risks in bringing unfamiliar food, he encouraged people to try his experiment. Relationships are often built around food and in the communities where people who have different ethnic backgrounds, food is a great way to come together.

His old neighborhood still hosts the weekly dinners. Additionally, smaller groups were born. A few examples are bicycle clubs, book clubs, and poker nights.

One of the main benefits of the dinner nights was how neighbors came together. Because they all knew each other, they also looked out for each other. If a house was starting to fall into disrepair, they would come together to fix it up. If an alleyway needed cleaning, neighbors would pitch in to clean it.

In publishing his book, David Purnell said, “I want people to come together as a community, to use what they have to help others.”

Link to the PDF version:


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