Offering free meals to strangers — the Sikh tradition of langar — has long been a core part of the Sikh faith.
And where better to talk about our similarities, and differences, than over a plate of food.
Organizers served up hundreds of meals to Calgarians from all walks of life this week in the name of breaking down barriers and bringing the city closer together.
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"We don't know who's right next to us and how much we have in common," said Rusveer Kaur Jones with the Sikh education organization Basics of Sikhi.
"We're sharing the message of oneness, we're all connected and doing that over food is breaking down all sorts of barriers, socio-economic, religious, we're just two people sharing a meal together," said Jones. "This has been going on for hundreds of years."
Jones and a team of volunteers dished out more than 700 free meals in Forest Lawn this week at the Alex Community Food Centre to create an opportunity for people to talk openly with Sikhs and ask all sorts of questions about their beliefs and culture.
Every Sikh temple or gurdwara — including Calgary's — offers people a free meal at any time regardless of sex, colour or religion. There are no rituals involved and everyone eats together. It's at the centre of Sikh teaching around equality.
"We're always scared of what we don't know so we need to break down all of that stuff and see that we're all the same, we're all one," said Jones. "It's been fascinating to see our neighbours here and hear the questions they have."
"Just them piecing it together like, 'I never knew that's what you believed,' or, 'I had a Sikh neighbour for 20 years and I never knew you guys did this,'" said Jones.
The event was timed to coincide with Empathy Week 2018, a seven-day festival of events in Calgary to promote empathy and human connection, organized by Calgary-based group Humainologie
"Food is a very, very powerful tool for breaking down barriers," said Miriam Bankey with the Alex Community Food Centre on International Avenue, which hosted the meals.
The Alex brings people in the community together to grow, cook and share food, holding classes and food-focused programs.
"We all eat and we're all deeply connected to food, it connects us to the land, to ourselves and each other so today is a perfect example of how food really can connect us to each other," she said.
"Good food is a basic human right that everybody deserves and we're here in the heart of Forest Lawn, we're very diverse out here and there's a lot of amazing restaurants with delicious food so it made sense to bring in the Sikh community and share with our community," said Bankey.
Organizers say they hope to hold the event again next year.