Emily Kauffman sat across from me at a booth in Maple City Market, where she’s worked for the last few years. To her left was a paper bag full of ingredients to make pasta for her and her roommate and a single red rose for herself because it was Valentine’s Day and self-love matters.
The contents of this seemingly ordinary grocery bag are telling of the important role food and community have in Kauffman’s life. She makes the effort to show compassion for those around her, to foster belonging.
Cooking became a de-stressing mechanism, creative expression and a way to build community, Kauffman said. “It was my joy in creating something beautiful that invited other people to experience it as well. Seeing them find joy gave me joy. We need food and relationships to survive. When we take our needs and the needs of others seriously, that ultimately connects us.”
Kauffman graduated from Goshen College in 2018. Most people on campus are familiar with her sunny smile and warm disposition. She was an editor-in-chief of The Record, went to China for SST, and now works at Anna’s Bread and Maple City Market.
Kauffman is great at making people feel welcome and often invites others into her space to share a meal. She cares about her community and does not shy away from making it known.
“My love of cooking began in the third through fifth grade, when my family lived on a small hobby farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia,” says Kauffman. They raised chickens, pigs, goats, cows and tended to a garden. The farm provided their family with meat, eggs and produce. Having a hand in the process taught Kauffman the value of where our food comes and the time and energy it takes to grow and prepare.
Kauffman said that she did not appreciate living on a farm then as much as she does now. During the middle of freshman year in high school, her family moved to northwest Ohio. Kauffman and her two sisters begged their parents to buy a house in a more suburban area so that they would be closer to friends and city life.
After graduating from Hesston College in 2016, Kauffman transferred to Goshen College. Being a transfer student in an unfamiliar community gave Kauffman the chance to grow new roots, but finding a sense of belonging and connection was a challenge at first.
During this time Kauffman began working at Maple City Market, where she would get expired (still edible) foods. She used these foods to prepare meals for her roommates in East Hall.
During the age of social media, it’s especially easy to become increasingly disconnected. Kauffman noted that she’s learned that being online doesn’t fill the void of connection. Storytelling is important to her and “by using food as a tool for storytelling, a web of connections can be made.”
Strong ties to community hubs in Goshen have further strengthened Kauffman’s appreciation for the people here. “I feel known if people recognize my face and remember my name,” said Kauffman. Because of this, Kauffman has continued to work at Maple City Market and now also works at Anna’s Bread, a bakery/breakfast spot in Goshen.
During SST in China, Kauffman was revitalized by the freshness of food and the hospitality from her host family. She said, “In China, the food was unlike any other foods I’d had before, like cow stomach. Before we left I told myself that I was going to take advantage of being there and try everything. It’s such a sign of respect to try something new.”
Kauffman said that “while the language barrier was there, as well as stark cultural differences, food was a connecting force.”
She recalled walking through the enormous farmers market with her host mother and taking in the sights and smells of all the fresh foods.
Kauffman noticed that in China her understanding of hospitality and communal eating expanded dramatically. “What we eat affects our physical and mental wellbeing. Our personal wellbeing, or lack of, affects relationships,” she said.
The connection to food and wellbeing becomes a challenge when accessibility comes into question. Kauffman highlighted that she is frustrated by the elements of privilege around fresh food. Not everyone in the states has access to fresh produce.
When Kauffman recently traveled to Ireland, her love of food was reinforced once again. “We wanted to try all the forms of potatoes,” Kauffman said. She also mentioned that is was the best seafood she’s ever had.
In Dingle, Ireland, Kauffman came across a bakery with a one-woman production team who starts making bread at two a.m.. Kauffman said she was able to really appreciate the baker’s dedication because she also works in a bakery and knows how much time and energy goes into a loaf of broad.
Kauffman said that, “As cheesy as it sounds, my mom is one of my main sources of inspiration. We share a lot, especially how we connect with people. I’ve learned my sense of humility and service from her.”
For some, food is a means of fueling the body in order to get through the day, for Kauffman, food is a love language.