When lockdown first arrived in 2020, I was a freelancer in an impacted industry. All of my work and income disappeared overnight. Furthermore, I’d fallen down the cracks in the government support schemes. It was quickly apparent that I needed new work.
I spent Friday morning applying to a bunch of jobs, anything I could think of, until I got a call back from a pizza chain, where I’d applied for work as a delivery driver – could I start that night? I certainly could!
I arrived for work, sightly bemused by the sudden career change and, in hindsight, with a poor attitude. I felt that I was better than a menial job like this, consoling myself that I was just there for a couple of months until this ‘corona thing’ was over. Little did I know I’d end up staying for over a year!
It would be fair to say that my colleagues were not my demographic. A mixture of teenage Brits, very recent immigrants and some who had been here for longer, I would have had no opportunity to meet them in my previous life. Language was a barrier and cultural misunderstandings sometimes led to tense moments, but overall it was a pretty good working atmosphere.
Working in a pizza shop, you’d think everyone might be sick at the sight of food, but it transpired to be an integral part of forming relationships. Friday and Saturday nights were the busiest, and from about 6 till 9 it was all hands on deck as pizzas flew out of the oven, and then out the door into our cars and mopeds. A key moment of the night came when it would suddenly die down, and the small army of kitchen staff and drivers would suddenly find ourselves in a quieter store. Whilst most of us got to cleaning the shop, somebody would make a giant garlic-bread-style pizza, which would then be cut into 5cm squares. Everybody would then pause to eat, standing around, quietly munching, exchanging the occasional eyebrow raise or thumbs up. My Indian colleagues would invariably add chilli powder, hot buffalo dip, jalapenos – anything to make it spicier! Week by week, this moment of downtime amidst the chaos became a small oasis where we could chat a little, share jokes and get to know each other more.
Later came Ramadan. With a couple of Muslim employees fasting during the days, the inevitable feasting after sundown was an amazing thing to share. They brought home-cooked food with them, delicious dishes I’d previously only tried in restaurants, and Indian kaju katli sweets. I’m an adventurous eater, and always want to know how things are made, so I was enjoying every moment.
Something else that was new to me was an openness to faith. I had grown up in a community where one was either Christian or not really anything. So, as a Christian, to stand around with a Hindu and a Muslim and compare notes was a welcome novelty. Most of my new friends knew nothing about what Christmas or Easter meant, so naturally I brought Easter eggs and advent calendars as a way of sharing the message behind them.
I’d love to say that this eventually led to somebody coming along to church, or turning to Christ. Sadly, it did not. The fast-paced and transient nature of the workplace tended to interrupt any possible moments of deeper conversation. But I certainly learned (and ate!) a heap, which I would not have done otherwise. Importantly, I gained some humility about the nature of work, an appreciation for the poor conditions many lower-paid workers endure, and formed friendships with a diverse group of people I would never have met otherwise, some of whom I am still in touch with today.
The beauty of food is that it is universal. It yields a kaleidoscope of difference and variation that rarely leads to conflict and can be shared even with those you can’t communicate with. It forms a bond, a shared experience, a layer of understanding which can lead to friendship, and offers an opportunity to share about what you believe in very safe ways.