Edible Gift

I Can’t Stop Feeding My Neighbor

May 18, 2018

It was, admittedly, a little awkward when I brought Maria the chicken stock.

“It’s chicken stock,” I said, handing my neighbor the container. “I have so much that I just thought you might want some. But you don’t have to take it!”

But of course she did, because I had practically forced the quart into her hands. She thanked me, promised to use it, and closed her red door. Mind and heart racing, I returned to my apartment.

I live in New York, a city where politeness means staying in your lane and leaving others alone, where acknowledgment means slight nods from a distance. People go years (years!) without speaking to their neighbors.

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So why was I pushing myself on the woman across the hall?

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“My husband and I now live in an amazing neighborhood in Minneapolis where everyone knows each other and I'm pretty well known for my casseroles. I loved reading about your experiences and feel you are a kindred spirit!”
— Cindy Y.
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Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. I grew up in a small neighborhood in Lafayette, Louisiana. Even now, there are only 17 families who live there. Everyone knows everyone. We threw block parties on Halloween and the Fourth of July. Every spring, I could expect at least 17 obligatory orders of Girl Scout Cookies. Every summer, my dad would pressure wash one neighbor’s driveway, and she in turn would feed our dogs when we were out of town. It’s not that my neighborhood was anything special. It’s just the way it was.

And food was always shared. My mom sent over extra gumbo for the Breaux’s baby shower. Mrs. Prophet gave me fresh satsumas. My family’s fig tree turned into cookies and breads and jams for the whole neighborhood.

I can’t shake the need to help, and be helped, by the people I live near.

Of course, I knew things wouldn't be the same in New York. But after two apartments and three years of coolly avoiding eye contact with my neighbors, I crossed paths with a short, middle-aged woman walking a short, very excited dog.

“I think we live on the same floor,” Maria said, after I bombarded her with questions about Simon (the dog). And that was that. I decided we would be friends.

So far, I’ve only brought her granola (left over from holiday gifts) and the chicken stock (I really did have too much!). But we’ve made great strides. She asks how my day is going whenever we bump into each other in the stairwell. And last week she picked up a package for me. They’re just little steps, but they may lead to the sense of community I really miss living in a city like New York.

I’m not lonely. I have an amazing roommate, volunteer in my neighborhood, and meet creative, smart people every day at work and in my life. But I can’t shake the need to help, and be helped, by the people I live near. It’s a feeling that orients me, grounds me.

One day, I hope I can trust Maria with a spare set of my keys, or ask her to check on my cat Boudin. In the meantime, I’ll be at her door, feeding her my extra plate of cookies.


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What brings you and your neighbors together?

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.

11 Comments

Jen O. May 22, 2018
I've been forcing food on my poor friends for years! Winter was so long and dreadful that I started to bake cookies every weekend to send to friends all over the country. I didn't let anyone know to expect one of my "cookie offensives," and the notes, texts, and calls that I received when the packages arrived were so uplifting. My friends' kiddos call me "the cookie lady" because I always have something for them in my purse!
 
Cindy Y. May 20, 2018
I grew up in a very small town in northeastern New Jersey. Just about everyone knew each other much like your hometown, Katie. If my mom heard of someone who was sick, going through a surgery, or alone for a holiday, she would make sure they were well fed. It's in my genes. My husband and I now live in an amazing neighborhood in Minneapolis where everyone knows each other and I'm pretty well known for my casseroles. I loved reading about your experiences and feel you are a kindred spirit!
 
tamater S. May 21, 2018
Same here, I really related...the tiny village I grew up in was in Hunterdon County, N.J. *Siiiigh* So beautiful!
 
nana M. May 19, 2018
I call myself the breakfast queen which is good since I own a B&B . I almost always make too much and then send it to my neighbors who graciously accept. All good!
 
Pam H. May 19, 2018
Our neighborhood is part of our extended family. I loved this so much, food is an universal language. It takes time to develop friendships. excellent writing!
 
Ian A. May 19, 2018
Sometimes you have to share, like when I smoked a turkey and a pig for thanksgiving. You have no choice but to feed someone, so it might as well be your neighborhood.
 
BerryBaby May 19, 2018
I enjoy baking but not necessarily eating it. So my neighbors receive surprise baked goods and they love it. I’m known as the ‘bakery on the corner’!
 
ktr May 18, 2018
This reminds me of when I lived in New Jersey. So many neighbors that I never met. Now I’m back in the Midwest and I know most of my neighbors.
The last thing that brought most of the neighbors together was when my husband and one neighbor brought down the power line while cutting down a tree. No one got hurt and it gave everyone something to talk about for a while.
 
Cory B. May 18, 2018
This is such a sweet story! I just might go home and bake my neighbors some cookies :)
 
Eric K. May 18, 2018
This story inspired me to go home and bake cookies for my neighbors.

But before I knew it, I had eaten all the cookies, by myself, in one sitting. I still don’t know any of my neighbors.
 
Joanna S. May 22, 2018
amazing, eric