Food Friday–the healing qualities of food edition
I grew up in a family where food was used to express love. My husband grew up in a family where his mother was an anxious and mostly terrible cook. My brother in law famously tells that he didn’t know food was supposed to taste good until he left home. My husband didn’t find out about salad dressing until he left for college.
I found eating at my mother in law’s table to be a highly anxiety provoking experience. We would be called to the table for a meal I would sit down. Whoops! the table wasn’t set. I would attempt to set the table. I would locate the paper plates and the broken straw paper plate holders (this was after all a company meal!). My mother in law would be yelling at everyone to sit down and I would try to locate enough silverware to set the table.
We would sit down. Whoops! We had to clear the stacks of newspapers off of the chairs so people could sit at the table. Perhaps we had to go into a bed room to find a chair and bring that to the table. The leg of the chair might be broken and my father in law would take out string and paper clips and Mc Guyver a repair that would work, but only if you sat in one particular position.
Finally most of us would be sitting. My mother in law would bring a pot to the table, stab the contents with a fork and put it on your plate. Oh no! tragedy had struck! She had forgotten a dish!. She would scurry back to the kitchen and get that dish.
Food had to be in motion at the table for my mother in law to be happy. The meal was less about actually eating but more about passing food that seemed to appear during the meal in no apparent order.There were usually three or four different varieties of protein. There might be four different starches. You would be asked which one you wanted. You would make a choice and them my mother in law would suggest a different choice. You would be full but my mother in law would remember that she had bought knishes and you must eat them now.
Meals were not relaxing but were instead fights to maintain one’s sense of self. Not surprisingly, my husband was suspicious of meals I made for him to show my love.
My husband is going through a bit of a difficult time connected with his work life. It’s one of those crises that leave one feeling cranky and funky. Last night I mentioned to my husband what I had planned to make for Shabbat, (meatballs) and the guests we had planned to invite. My husband then began to complain that he didn’t think that our guest would think that meatballs were appropriate Shabbat food and I ought to make chicken instead.
After we hung up I realized that my husband was actually not so worried about our guests but was feeling in need of the specific comfort he gets from chicken.
I pulled the chickens out the freezer and made the chopped meat that had already defrosted into meatloaf for last night’s dinner. When I told my husband about the change in menu he was just so pleased that I realized that my hunch was right. So, I made the chicken with smoked paprika so it tastes like a classier version of the take out chicken that was a constant at my mother in law’s table.
This morning my husband asked what else I would be making for Shabbat. He mentioned that he loved roasted potato wedges that he associates with a Father’s Day dinner the kids had made for him. My husband is feeling bummed. But he knows that food made with love will make him feel loved. He looked so wistful when he talked about the potato wedges that I ran out and bought potatoes.
So in the end, I guess I have over time shown my husband, who out of a sense of self protection, thought of food as fuel, that food can also be a way to express and receive comfort and love. My husband has learned that food can be part of a language of listening and hearing of caring and of giving.