So long expensive big city and foreign restaurants!  Some of the best and most affordable cuisine anywhere is found in farm homes and agricultural communities. 

Food is understandably a big deal for farmers and the communities where agricultural goods are produced and processed for markets.  Not only do people involved in agriculture have their livelihoods linked to most of the delicious foods diners seek, they also prepare and appreciate really, really good food themselves. 

One evening last week, the group of gastronomic adventurers to which Marilyn and I belong met for another of our delectable monthly dinners, along with sampling fine wines from around the world and large doses of informative conversation and hearty laughter. 

There are four couples in our loosely organized club that meets at one of our homes each month and occasionally at a restaurant we select by consensus for its reputed tasty offerings and to explore interesting new menus.  We call ourselves the Gastronauts.

Each couple tries to outdo the others with delicious and unusual entrees and main courses.  Sorry you meat and potatoes lovers only. 

The men and women in our group share in the selection and preparation of items.  Often the hosts prepare histories of the food and the region of the world which inspired the menu.

The culinary creations of the chefs in our group compare favorably with those of the best restaurants in Paris, San Francisco, Munich and other regions reputed for their tasty offerings on cable television food shows and internet recipe sites.  The Gastronauts occasionally draw ideas from these sources and from visits to various countries and unusual eateries. 

A few of the many delicacies we have tried are smoked lamb shanks, an entire meal of various dishes involving gorgonzola cheese, grilled mahi-mahi, Indonesian spring rolls, salted caramel ice cream, Thai coconut soup, Tandoori chicken hors d’oeuvres, Iberian prosciutto, Moroccan tagine and Scottish haggis.

We periodically savor the simple but scrumptious meals most of us grew up eating.  Frequently the menu includes items Gastronauts have grown ourselves. 

We also like to compare food items.  We voted on which locally-caught fish (bluegills, bass and crappies) was tastiest, all fried in the same batter.  Three people apiece voted for crappies and bluegills, two for bass.

We compared roasted antelope, elk, bison and venison.  We conducted taste tests of marinated pheasant, duck and goose breasts. 

We relished appetizers of lamb, pork and beef backstraps, thinly sliced and grilled.  We experimented with batter-fried squash blossoms and raw flower petals of several types. 

We evaluated dishes of wild rice (which isn’t a variety of rice), brown, short grained, and long white rice.  We tried Peruvian quinoa, Ethiopian couscous and Ecuadorean amaranth.  We compared wines, beers, and coffees from every continent except Antarctica. 

While partaking together is the impetus for the Gastronauts, it’s more than our shared culinary experiences that holds us together.  Over the years we have come to count on each other for advice and support when needed.  We are friends. 

The people in our group have mostly farm and rural roots, but we cut across occupational, political, religious and ethnic spectra.  We all have grown children, many of whom participate in the dinners from time to time.  Occasionally invited visitors join us, such as house guests.

We think we sing the Doxology in four part harmony together so well that it has become our favorite prayer prior to beginning dinner.  We greet each other and say goodbye with hugs.

Farm people are accustomed to great dinners.  I fondly remember the noon meals that harvest and haying crews had together when I was part of the crew. 

Usually we were so full after dinner that we had to nap a while before going back to work.  We never called it lunch; that came midafternoon.  It’s too bad we don’t have threshing and haying crews anymore.

Still however, farm community potlucks, neighborhood dances and parties for no other reason than to get together are part of the country traditions of rural America.   

The first few Thanksgiving celebrations of European colonists with Native Americans exemplify the sharing of food and cultures.  These celebrations in both Virginia and Massachusetts contributed to mutual respect among the new immigrants and native people but the cordial cross cultural exchanges didn’t continue beyond the first few years. 

It’s never too late to begin communal traditions.  Enjoying company together over food is a good starting point.

I wish neighborhoods everywhere would hold dinners together and invite people of all backgrounds.  Perhaps if people of all racial, religious, political and social strata would establish traditions of sharing food and relationships together, like the first few Thanksgivings, these events would help Americans bridge the many divisions that we now experience in our country.

Enjoying good food and drink together can initiate the sharing process.  Friendship, understanding and respect are the likely outcomes.

Dr. Mike and his wife live on their farm at Harlan, Iowa.  He likes hearing from readers.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com