Coming back to home colony during pandemic was food for the Hutterite soul, Manitoban says

This First Person article is the experience of Sarahann Hofer, a community member with the Green Acres Hutterite Colony in southwestern Manitoba. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

An observant lady once sang “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I’ve felt that.

Or rather, my digestive tract yowled it. It was the retaliation of interrupting a timely and well-rounded Hutterite diet of 18 years. 

It had been a month since I made the bold decision to leave my comfortable Hutterite home, in pursuit of becoming uncomfortable, travelling the world.

I wasn’t naive enough to think it would be smooth sailing. But it never occurred to me that disrupting a diet I’ve been on my whole life would be the most uncomfortable thing I’d have to endure. 

Part of the pain was from the schedule interruption. You see, for my entire existence I have eaten each meal at the same time of the day, every day. Breakfast at 7:15 a.m., dinner at 11:45 a.m. and supper at 6 p.m.

By consistently eating on a regular schedule, my body could self-regulate and know when to expect refuelling. My newfangled, unstructured lifestyle meant that wasn’t conceivable anymore.  

But the quality of our food — or lack thereof — was the biggest issue. 

By cultivating and consuming our own foodstuffs, Hutterites have a diverse organic food culture, rich in flavour and farm-fresh nutrients. We have a wide array of healthy food choices all year, thanks to all the pickling and preserving our womenfolk spend months doing. We also grow and butcher our own meat, make our own dairy products and ferment our own wine. 

It’s such an ingrained aspect of our culture that most Hutterites probably haven’t given it too much thought.

‘Gruelling implications’ of diet change

I couldn’t ignore it though; my body sent me obvious signs of discontentment. I constantly had an upset stomach and the food I ate left me feeling lethargic for the day. 

My entire life I had been warned of the dangers and dilemmas that leaving the community will impose on my life. But nobody had ever told me about the gruelling implications of a major dietary change. It threw me off course. 

Something needed to change quickly, or I might find myself back in the community quicker than I’d planned.

‘The more I travelled, the more I wanted to travel,’ says Hofer. (Submitted by Sarahann Hofer)

Partly to combat this issue and partly for my love of good food, I immersed myself in a wide variety of non-Hutterite cuisines. I cooked and created dishes in Canadian, Mexican, Japanese, Israeli and Australian restaurants.

I learned heaps in those kitchens, always applying myself and doing much of the heavy lifting with my brute Hutterite strength. I never left a job without a good recommendation, learning quickly that being a Hutterite is always an advantage. 

My body did eventually regulate itself, adapting to foreign foods and an irregular schedule. But no matter where I cooked or what exotic dish I ate, nothing ever satisfied me quite right. Nothing quelled my glust (longing) for a hot bowl of borch und knedle (cabbage soup with pan-fried potato and dough balls) on a nippy evening on the prairies. 

‘A beautiful whirlwind of a year’

I had always planned to return to colony life once I was done adventuring around the globe. But the more I travelled, the more I wanted to travel. So I was torn between wanting to see the whole world and missing out on my new nephew growing up without ever meeting him. 

My whole community was growing and evolving without me and it often felt isolating.   

Hofer cooked in kitchens around the world before returning home. (Submitted by Sarahann Hofer)

The 2020 worldwide coronavirus pandemic presented me with a perfect opportunity to implement myself back in my community. I had just returned from months of overseas travels, with barely any money left and no apartment or job lined up. It wasn’t an unusual situation to find myself in, but this time the world was feeling out of sorts. 

I missed the wholeness of my culture.– Sarahann Hofer

So I had to adapt. I got an offer to quarantine on my community with the option to remain afterwards. I happily agreed. It was an undeniable sign from the universe that I am where I should be. 

It’s been a beautiful whirlwind of a year since coming home and a spiritual experience to become regrounded with my roots. I’m now back on my regularly scheduled diet of hearty homegrown meals and getting my hands dirty, as I help cultivate them.

It satisfies unlike any other eating experience. It was a fulfilling “nurturing by nature” food practice that all my four years of world travelling was devoid of.   

To live on a Hutterite community, one must participate in the community work that’s divided among all the able-bodied. I naturally filled my given roles, often feeling like I’d never even left.

It pleases me immensely to be back among my people. I tremendously missed speaking our dialect and I missed the simplicity of my wardrobe. 

But more importantly, I missed the wholeness of my culture.