Comfort Food

DT1738

Table for Ladies

“…..and please bless the refreshments that they will nourish and strengthen our bodies and do us the good that we need……”

I smirk silently, roll my eyes beneath piously closed lids and envision brownies, cookies and lemonade transfigured into fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic something-or-other, packed with protein and vitamins, all contingent on our scripted gratitude for the hands who prepared it.

“What is it with Mormons and our sugar consumption?!” I think, “Is it because we don’t serve coffee or alcohol at our gatherings? It’s our addictive substance of choice?” and then wonder if we’d get the same turnout if we served veggies and hummus instead.

Between funeral potatoes, green Jell-o, and candlestick salad, it seems our cuisine befits a peculiar palette. (Having never been to a ward party outside the US, I’m not sure how this odd bit of Mormon culture translates in other countries – I hope each region holds to their own strangely endearing pot-luck contributions!)

Not only do we bring our favorite (and sometimes questionable) recipes to ward functions, we sign up to take them to each other. My small-ish ward does compassionate service (chiefly food-related, but also myriad of other kind acts) exceptionally well. Anytime we have a new baby, death or funeral, family emergency, surgery, extended illness, recovery from injury, or the like, our Compassionate Service Coordinator sends a blast email to the ward with a link to the Take Them a Meal schedule. Before you know it, the family in need is lined up with a week or two of hand-delivered meals and caring visitors.

As a kid, I remember watching my mom prepare some of her culinary specialities and asking, “Who had the baby? And what are we having instead?” When she took meals to people, she was sharing the best she had. Earlier this summer when baby #3 (my first daughter!) was born, nearly a dozen kind-hearted ward members filled my meal calendar with favorite recipes and specialties, take-out from local restaurants, right down to bags full of groceries and snacks for the little boys. Their charity was so abundantly given, their congratulations heartfelt and sincere. They shared my joy and empathized with my frustrations so much that I truly looked forward to my dinner-time visitor each night! The food filled our bellies and the warmth of their kindness lasted longer than the leftovers.

I’ve never felt so loved by my ward members as I did in these visits. Oh, I’ve had good Visiting Teachers over the years, and I feel appreciated on the days I play a musical number in Sacrament meeting, but the real, pure love of Christ came knocking at my door with a pot of stew and a chicken pie.

So why the food? What’s food got to do with it?

“Love people. Cook them tasty food.” became more than just an advertising slogan to me. It might as well be canonized right into John 15 next to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Throughout his life, Jesus Christ fed hungry mouths almost as much as he saved starving souls, and his methods for providing food were notable miracles.  When he turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana, he saved his mother embarrassment and impressed the governor of the feast. On at least 2 occasions after teaching precious truths, he fed the multitude with a few loaves and fishes so they wouldn’t faint from fasting on the journey home. He sent quail and manna to the children of Israel in the wilderness. He calls himself the bread of life, the living water, and on the day before his death, he ate the Passover feast with his closest friends and instituted the Sacrament wherein he again uses food to represent himself.

I’m starting to see the provision of food to others among the height of Christian deeds. Though it often falls to women (and the Relief Society) to impart food, it’s a Christlike act that must transcend gender stereotypes. “Feed my sheep,” he says, “Feed my lambs,” for “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these…ye have done it unto me.”

From the new visiting teacher with an awkward door approach holding a plate of cookies to the neighbor who “cooked a little extra,” I admire those who know the quickest way to “comfort those in need of comfort” is by sharing comfort food. Thanks for the love.

Violadiva

Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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21 Responses

  1. Hedgehog says:

    “Having never been to a ward party outside the US, I’m not sure how this odd bit of Mormon culture translates in other countries”
    Never seen funeral potatoes or candlestick salad in Britain and any jelly (our name for jello) is probably part of a trifle (http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/type-of-dish/desserts/trifle/traditional-raspberry-trifle.html the Mormon version will skip the sherry) and not usually green. Typical pot luck fare includes quiche, cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, sandwiches of various sorts, fresh veg and salads with dips (including hummus), sometimes pasta salads, bean salads, cup cakes of differing sorts, trifle, fruit, lemon meringue pie, apple pie (no cinnamon).

  2. Liz says:

    I have rarely felt more cared for than when friends bring me a meal – there’s something really special about it. It’s so simple, yet so meaningful. I tend to agree with your view that it is the height of Christian service.

    This post makes me feel all warm and cozy. Thank you!

  3. Rachel says:

    I still remember meeting a friend at her apartment when I was in grad college, and her husband telling me she wasn’t home yet, because she was delivering a meal to a family in her ward with a new baby, and that he didn’t quite get why the father couldn’t just make his family dinner. After all, my friend made himself dinner when his wife was gone. At the time, I didn’t quite get it yet either. I made myself every meal. Even in the midst of personal illness or finals. Then a few years passed, and I had a baby. I got it. It was the food, but it was also more than the food. It was the thought, the care, and the community. A few months after that I taught a primary class about service, and asked the 6 year olds examples that they’d seen. One of the girl’s told me that her mom brings a meal to everyone who has a baby. Her mom was the First one who brought a meal to me. I felt so much love. I have also had a friend make my family a meal when I had a deadline the day _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ was due to the publisher. It was a small thing that felt so big. Now I try to do it more often for others, at babies and school or work deadlines.

    • Jenny says:

      You’re exactly right Rachel, it is about the thought, care, and community. When we first moved to our ward here, I was pregnant with my third child and having such a rough time. My delivery was a painful and horrible nightmare in which we didn’t even know if we would come home with a baby. I didn’t really know anyone yet and I felt so lonely. I almost felt devastated when only two people quickly dropped off a frozen meal and the ingredients for me to make a meal. I couldn’t understand why it was such a big deal to me and I felt silly for even caring. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me or my husband to make dinner. But what I longed for more than a break from cooking was to be surrounded at that moment by love from my sisters. I just wanted visits. I wanted them to come get to know me and to understand the horrible ordeal I’d just been through and the loneliness I was feeling.

  4. Jenny says:

    I love your thoughts about the need for service via food to transcend gender. It seems like whenever men are involved with food in the church it’s some sort of competition. One thing that really impressed me about my husband when we were first married was that he loved to serve with food. He always talked about how his mother made goodies for the neighbors and he and his siblings never got to eat them. I loved how he took that role on himself instead of expecting his wife to fill his mother’s shoes. Because let’s face it, I am one woman who does not belong in the kitchen and my cookies would not have been much service. But I’m learning and improving on that too. I am a little nostalgic for those days when we were newly married and living in friendlier waters as far as the church was concerned, and every Sunday was spent cooking gourmet meals for the family we had invited to dinner so that we could really get to know them. And the enormous outpouring of love and food from the relief society when I had my first baby! Since those early days in our first ward, I have not experienced such love and service through food, and I really miss it. Thank you for your excellent post! It reminded me of my good Mormon home that I love and miss.

  5. Jennifer says:

    You are such an incredible writer. Thank you for writing this; it immediately transported me to the times I’ve received or given meals. Your article is efinitely comfort food for the soul.

  6. spunky says:

    This is such a lovely post. Being childless for most on my adult church life, I was never on the list of someone who needed a meal. Perhaps it is because we don’t live in the US, but it makes me wonder if some of my aversion to relief society might have been lessened had I been occasionally included in the ritual of sharing a meal.

  7. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this great post, Violadiva,

    I was late to understanding the food as service thing. I admit that I was perplexed and slightly annoyed by the expectations surrounding bringing new moms meals. Couldn’t the husband just figure it out? Weren’t we implying that men were incapable of putting a meal together? This feeling was so strong that I never really allowed my RS to bring me meals when I had babies. I did let a couple particularly close friends who privately approached me and asked me if they could bring over a meal do so. And then I started to get it. It’s not really about the food, it’s just a way to show that you are being thought about and cared for. Which is a very very nice thing. Most recently, I very much appreciated some older ladies in my ward bringing my husband and kids taco soup one night when I was away in Africa for three weeks. Obviously my husband could have figured dinner out, but they were just trying to show how much they appreciated Mike. Very sweet of them.

  8. em says:

    When my first baby was ten weeks old and diagnosed with a crushing genetic disease, my mom flew across the country right away to be there and support us.

    My tears flowed- and still do years later, when I recall how her ward, where I grew up, brought meals to my dad for weeks. Yes, he absolutely could have gotten take- out or made a sandwich. But I knew that was their way of supporting and loving me from 2000 miles away…caring for my dad so my mom could care for me. I truly felt the love of a world wide sisterhood through their meals delivered so far from my door.

  9. Melanie G says:

    As an American ex-pat living in Germany, I was surprised and disappointed when my first two children were born and no meals arrived. It just wasn’t done here in my ward at that time. Perhaps they thought that everybody in a similar situation would have mothers, mothers-in-law, and various other relatives to help out, and for the most part, that’s probably true. But since my babies both arrived before their scheduled due date, and my own mother had had to book her flights across the Atlantic in advance without knowing when they’d come, there were two to four weeks when I was home alone with very little help. That was years ago. Since then, there have been a few efforts to organize meals for women having babies, if they needed and wanted it, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on in the way you know it in the U.S. Kind of sad, really.

    • spunky says:

      I wonder if that is a cultural thing? I know in some non-north american wards I have been in, the compassionate service coordinater, who I think is supposed to organize meals, is either nonexistent (even in some larger wards, the calling was deemed unnecessary to fill), or the primary focus was that calling was aiding the aging members of the ward who had little or no family help. What kind of ward were you in at Germany?

      • Melanie G says:

        Just a regular ward, I guess, extending over one big city and several surrounding towns. At the moment, we have about 80 active members, and we’re called one of the larger wards in our stake. But I don’t ever remember hearing about a calling for “compassionate service coordinator.” Anything like that is organized by the Relief Society presidency.

      • spunky says:

        It sounds like you are in a small ward with widespread menbership, so all of the compassionate service duties would fall on the relief society president.

        I was in a ward about this size once. The relief society rule was that in the month of your birthday, you were to bring a “freezer meal” (up to 3 meals for the month) to church to be stored in the ward freezer for use when someone was ill. In cases when meals were needed, the missionaries would be the ones to take 3-5 meals to a needy family because they had the time and fuel budget to deliver the meals. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it worked. Maybe you could suggest this to your relief society president as a way of getting the meals program started in your ward?
        ttps://www.lds.org/callings/relief-society/getting-started/roles-and-responsibilities/other-callings?lang=eng

    • Violadiva says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience with your German ward!
      The calling of Compassionate service leader might be a custom calling for some wards. I think it would usually fall on the RS President or Visiting teachers to fill the needs of a family or individual like this. But it’s a lovely calling, and in the hands of the right person, could be very meaningful — just pure Christlike service. It takes a variety of shapes in my ward, only 1 or 2 babies born each year so the majority of our organized service is for our elderly or single members (injuries, illness, and childcare). I’ve been so pleased to see our single members both give and receive when these sorts of things are organized. It was nice to have them stick around and hold the baby while I fed the other kids, and I think they liked it, too!

    • EFH says:

      I actually happen to know something about this. It is a cultural thing. Bringing food to people is something that only close relatives do because we are picky eaters in Europe and don’t eat food from just anyone. In addition, it is kind of offensive to bring food to someone rather than have them over. You were in a tough position because you were new and alone and the RS failed not to use the cultural lens to identify your needs as a foreigner in the country. In such a situation, I would recommend that you simply have to ask for help a – in your case, if you had said I need meals, people might have even rolled their eyes because they would not understand. But if you had said I am alone and need a couple of mothers or sisters to be assigned to me to come help me around the house, then the meals would have come with a lot of cleaning and other little but important services. It is truly a cultural thing, nothing more. We usually do not have compassionate coordinators. The church outside of USA has its own limitations too.

      • Melanie G says:

        People in Europe don’t eat food from just anyone? I’d never have known that by watching my ward feast at the potluck lunches we sometimes have after church. But maybe that’s an entirely different thing than bringing a ready-made meal to somebody’s door. Well, now I know, and if I ever need help, I’ll make sure to ask the RS president.

        To Spunky about bringing meals to keep in the ward freezer … I’m fairly sure we’re not allowed to store food on the premises at all, not even in a freezer. We have a fridge in our tiny little ward kitchen, but I’m starting to wonder why, as it’s never even turned on. Why should it be? We’re not allowed to keep food in there, so it’s just a waste of electricity. I suppose it gets turned on once or twice a year in advance of a big celebratory meal such as the annual Good Friday breakfast, but otherwise, no. Aside from that, having ready-frozen meals sounded like a very good idea. Ah, well. Different countries, different traditions, different priorities.

      • Spunky says:

        Makes sense, Melanie G. In some countries, food storage is illegal as it is considered hoarding. As well, the push to not do food prep at church kinda makes the fridge thing unnecessary…where I’ve lived, the wards no longer have ovens, often only have bar-fridges, and maybe have a microwave…and rarely do meals for member households! Bringing food is common for funerals (exact food items are assigned), or “soup Sundays”- where we sip soup from cups after church – usually by assignment.

        Kinda fun to see all of the cultural food service acts in the church.

  1. September 18, 2015

    […] Comfort Food […]

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    […] note, I am a BIG FAN of the hot casserole. I wrote here about how special and wonderful it is to be fed (literally) by caring friends. This is just to help […]

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