Here at Alton L. Collins Retreat Center, food is a source of joy for our guests and our staff. We strive to produce delicious and healthy meals to complement the personal or communal work people have come here to do. Food is essential to the well-being of our bodies and joy is essential to the well-being of our spirits. We join these two together in our work of embodying Christian hospitality as we support the well-being of our guests.
For people with significant food allergies and sensitivities, eating away from home can be both a boring and a frightening experience. Boring, because people often opt for the safest choices, which can be the same foods repeatedly, and frightening because you are trusting people you may not know to be as careful with the ingredients and food preparation as you need, knowing your body will bear the consequences of potential errors. Beyond allergies and sensitivities, a critical component of hospitality at meals also includes being mindful of people’s religious and ethical choices regarding food. Whether the person is at Collins during Passover or feels called to a vegan lifestyle, meeting these needs is a way of showing our respect for each guest.
We acknowledge the fears and concerns our guests have regarding what is in our food and how we prepare it. From communicating with individuals and their groups, to training our staff to use care in all steps of food preparation, and especially through making most of our food from scratch, we provide comprehensive care for our guests; and we are continuously growing in our knowledge of how to provide even better food. Our Executive Chef is always trying new things as she discovers better substitutions and develops new recipes that are mindful and deliciously meet a wide variety of people’s needs and preferences.
Those whose diet do not follow what most consider conventional eating habits are often overjoyed as they encounter our food. Just a few weeks ago, one guest was so moved from their food over the course of their week-long stay that they asked if they could give our chef a hug! Words cannot convey the joy we witness, when we see the smiles that spread over faces when they hear that the delectable cookies at the table are gluten-free and vegan and how those smiles grow even more after they take a bite.
We are so fortunate to be able to make space for pleasant surprises and joy during meals as people try new things and get to eat nourishing food. And so, we encourage you, dear reader, to look for joy in one of the simplest of things, food. To care for yourself in new and engaging ways as you prepare food for yourself and for others, remembering that how we share with others and consider their needs is one of the most holy acts, for together we can experience joy around the table so that our lives may be abundant.