Oh, Canada, you really know how to get me. When the United States goes low, you seem to go high. First came those pictures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugging Syrian refugees, then came the #EatTogether campaign, which tugged my heartstrings with an inspirational commercial that ran among all the political speeches at the Grammy’s. Sure, some panned the sentimentalized aspects of the ad, including its use of a 1965 Burt Bacharach hit, but can’t we all agree that what the world does need now is love, sweet love?
The #EatTogether campaign, commissioned by President’s Choice foods in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, tells the story of isolated people gathering around a meal. In the video, one woman, visibly annoyed that her neighbors refuse to look up from their mobile phones, invites them to join her for an impromptu dinner in the hallway of their apartment building. We see by their dress and the food they bring to the table that the neighbors represent a variety of family types and ethnicities.
Near the end of the ad, one empty seat remains at the makeshift table. A little girl persuades a reluctant elderly gentleman who lives at the end of the hall to join the dinner party. We watch him disappear back into his apartment, leaving everyone to wonder if he’s unwilling to participate. But a moment later he returns with bread and a bottle of wine for his contribution. The old man and the little girl walk hand-in-hand down the hallway toward the table full of smiling neighbors and home-cooked food.
It’s not a new phenomenon for businesses to combine brand promotion with messages of cultural hope. In a time when our inboxes and media feeds offer a daily collision of contempt and technology, the #EatTogether campaign provides a counterproposal, suggesting that national pride, business, media, and technology can all work together for good. Cheesy or not, the campaign invites viewers to imagine a hopeful act of togetherness. Through the cultural power of a hashtag, we can insert ourselves into the story by sharing our own photos of sharing meals.
Words only become a gospel mission when they are embodied by deeds.
Even if #EatTogether is merely an innovative, heart-tugging ad to promote Canadian national pride and products, I think those of us who follow Christ might consider the message of quiet, local action that it inspires. The Globe and Mail described this as “unity and community-building through the vehicle of food.” This mission sounds a lot like a gospel mission; in a frantically antagonistic world, maybe the best thing any of us can do is open our doors to our neighbors and share a meal.
When it comes to hospitality to neighbors, I don’t know anyone more on mission than my parents. Apparently this habit began when they were newly married, living in a high-rise apartment building outside of Washington, D.C. Unsure how to meet their neighbors, they relied on their small-town instinct: share food. I still try to imagine how my mom must have felt, in her early twenties, carrying a freshly baked apple pie to another apartment.
Unsurprisingly, this method worked. My parents became friends with many of their neighbors—some that lasted a lifetime and some who, over coffee and more pie, asked questions about Christ. Last weekend, during a visit home, my mother told a story of the Algerian immigrants she knew from teaching English classes at the local civic association. When she discovered the family had recently moved into her neighborhood, she naturally made them a loaf of bread and delivered it to their door.
What I enjoy about the #EatTogether ad is that it sends a meaningful message without speaking a single word. What the world doesn’t need now are words, mere words. What better time than now for Christians to remember that words only become a gospel mission when they are embodied by deeds. So, happy upcoming birthday, Canada, and thanks for the beautiful reminder.