World Food Council

“May I have a word please, Zoe?” said Mr. Amin. His impish smile had won over many during his political career as Minister of Culture for Northern India, and continued to do so now in the not-for-profit sector of Canadia. It was only that smile, he believed, that had kept Open Hearts seniors daycare centre open. So many times when it was on the brink of closure, bank managers and provincial officials had been charmed by it. It wasn’t just his smile though. It was a million smiles gathered together from every senior that came here and was entertained, fed, and listened to, and whose children and grandchildren slept better knowing that Ma, Pa, Grandma, or Grandpa looked forward to their day ahead. Mr. Amin said, “Which delicious items are you making for us today?”

Zoe said, “We’re having East Indian today, especially for you, Mr. Amin. Tarka dal, mutter chawal, roast chicken for carnivores, and saag aloo for vegetarians, plus some salad, pickle, and sweet.” She didn’t have time to stop working. She whisked gram flour, chopped coriander, and wiped down surfaces as she spoke.

“Mmm… That sounds delicious,” said Mr. Amin, licking his top lip. “What’s the sweet today?”

“It’s halwa with flaked almonds. It’s the first time I’m making it here. I hope it turns out ok.”

Mr. Amin said, “I’m sure that it will. When are you taking your break, Zoe?”

“I don’t usually take it,” she said, peeling onions and squeezing out tomato paste. “I don’t have time. I work straight through.”

“You never take it?”

She nodded.

“Ok, please come and see me when you’ve finished cooking?”

She was about to ask something, but he beat her to it. “Yes, after you’ve done the preparation, but before serving.”

She came to his office at 11.30am. Mr. Amin knew that there was never a good time for these conversations, but it was best to have them in the middle of the day. That way the victim wasn’t shocked immediately upon arrival at work, but also didn’t hear about it just before going home. They had half a day without the knowledge, then half a day to deal with it. He called this his “Half-and-Half” approach to human relations.

He said, “Zoe, do you recall the questionnaire last week? Yes, we asked for clients’ views on how we ran the centre. One of the questions concerned the food we provide. Did you know that? Good.” It was going well so far and he gave her a winning smile. She smiled back. Maybe he’d smiled too much though, so he followed it with a frown, and Zoe frowned too. That was better. “Well as you know, you can never please everybody, however hard you try. Some people always complain. That’s not a reflection on you. Not at all. But we should at least be aware of their opinions, and maybe we can make small changes to please them. Things that are easy for us to do, and will make them happy. Yes, yes, I’m about to tell you.”

He specified the complaints: “cold food”, “boring food”, “flavourless food”, “stale food”, “disgusting food”, “ugly food”, “horrible food”, “food that produces nightmares”, “food that gives you diarrhoea”, and “food that makes you constipated”. Mr. Amin felt that there was little merit in these complaints. These Seniors were going through a process of transition – written about in the Indian scriptures – with one life stage changing to another. Their Childhood and Householder days were long gone, and now they were disempowered Elders. Their opinions counted for little, even in their own homes. The questionnaire had provided them with an opportunity to flex their muscles, and show some authority. At least on paper they could still be boss.

Poor Zoe was shocked. “What will happen now?” she said. “Will I lose my job? Will you bring in prepared food instead?”

“No, no, of course we won’t,” said Mr. Amin.

Her eyes flashed. He’d never noticed the amber. “Who said these things?” she said with anger. “Was it lots of people or just one person? I’m sure it wasn’t Irene, or James, or Albert, or Smuel. They appreciate my food. I bet it was that miserable Gemma – doing her knitting and talking about math. What use is that to her now? Counting down the days till she dies?”

He said, “Zoe, I know that you’re upset by this, but that’s enough. I can’t tell you who said what. Don’t take it personally. Let’s think what small things we can do together.” He left it there, as it was time for Zoe to serve lunch. He saw her slopping food out to clients. Her scowl alone would give them indigestion. Mr. Amin’s Half-and-Half approach wasn’t perfect he knew. They had a further conversation after lunch, and his smile worked wonders. Zoe was a sensible woman who knew that every job had hurdles to overcome. She now accepted the situation, and said that she would do the best she could with the time, budget, and resources available. In his view she performed miracles already with the $2 per person per day ingredients budget.

That evening Mr. Amin called an influential old friend in India. He told him how Zoe marinated food at home so it would taste better for the clients, that she shared her secret family recipes, sometimes added her own special ingredients, was often too busy to eat, and went without food when people wanted seconds.

His friend agreed that her daily good actions superseded her annoyance at the clients. It was clear that she filled her food with love. The next week a registered package for Zoe arrived from India. It was a certificate of merit from The Karmic World Slow Food Council. Mr. Amin framed the certificate and displayed in the kitchen. It was easy for him to do, and made her happy.

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