Welcoming our new monthly contributing writer, Emily Pastor.
“You probably need to eat something,” the baker said. “I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,” he said.
~“A Small Good Thing,” by Raymond Carver
We are surrounded by hurting and weary people. Some are in our families, some are friends, some are strangers. We all face times when exhaustion and loss characterize our own seasons in life. During those times, it’s hard to overemphasize the important role that food plays in providing comfort and healing.
When I walk into my kitchen, I often consider the importance my cooking plays in physical health, but easily forget about it’s role in the emotional health and security of my family. As a health-conscious mama it’s easy to fixate on preparing frugal and healthy meals for family and forget about the comforting aspect of food. I can get so caught up in finding the healthiest ingredients, serving faultlessly rounded meals, and making sure we all get enough good fats that I forget about the hearts and souls finding refuge in these meals. Cooking can be an instrument of comfort through familiarity, routine, and provision.
Comfort of Routine
Routines revolving around meals provide security and comfort. Have you ever noticed that most families have dinner seating arrangements that never change? Whenever we go over to my parents house for dinner, my grown siblings and I still sit in the same spots. We each have a place and the comfort of knowing we belong.
Last year I took a trip to visit my sister-in-law and niece while my brother was deployed. My sister-in-law’s meal routines really impacted me. For each meal, she set the table, put out cloth napkins, prayed before the meal, and enjoyed the menu of the day. These simple routine acts surrounding meals provided a comforting and enjoyable routine three times a day.
While routines establish security and comfort, they also provide a safe stage for creativity and change. The routine of setting the table is a fun routine that can change with the seasons, the holidays, or with whatever inspires your creativity. Asking table questions provides a routine that opens up constantly different, meaningful, or fun conversations each night. Prayer centers the focus of the meal and provides an outlet for constant changing praises and requests.
Comfort of Familiarity
When I think of comfort food, random meals come to mind: bean burritos, chicken pad thai, deli sandwiches, cheap chinese food. Even though each of those meals differ greatly, they all share a thread in bringing back memories of familiar and happy times. Bean burritos remind me of leisurely lunches growing up at home. Pad Thai reminds me of the early days of marriage when my husband worked at a Thai restaurant. Deli sandwiches remind me of summer. Cheap chinese food was my family’s favorite meal to eat out growing up. Some of these meals are more “healthy” than the others, but the comfort is in the feelings and memories they bring back. Everyone’s comfort foods are different and they hold memories in the smells, tastes, and textures of those foods.
While I don’t want to downplay the importance of healthy food, I’ve realized that sometimes an “un-healthy” meal can be more “nourishing” than a Sally Fallon endorsed entree. Sometimes a bowl of macaroni and cheese feels more nourishing than a bowl of steamed vegetables. Sometimes cinnamon rolls bring more peace than soaked whole wheat bagels. While not all comfort food is “un-healthy,” my point is that we should take into account our friends and family’s comfort foods and cook in such a way that reflects our love for them and their tastes. Serving familiar foods to loved ones is a tangible way we can say, “I know you; your tastes are important to me.”
Comfort of Provision
When I’m having a hard day, I love being invited over for dinner. I really don’t care if that means driving 40 minutes away…if you invite us, we’re on our way! There is comfort in someone meeting your most basic needs. For me the comfort of that meal means more than just enjoying food with friends and family. I feel the comfort all through the day as it gives me time for a nap instead of meal prep, more time to sit and chat after dinner instead of dishes, and a little more breathing room in my food budget. Providing meals for others is a practical way we can help meet not only the physical needs of others, but social, emotional, and financial needs as well.
What foods do you and your family find comforting?
What are your family’s established mealtime routines?
Who in my life is in need of some comfort that a meal could help provide?
Whether it’s in a warm cinnamon roll or a steaming bowl of soup, my hope is that we realize the healing power of our cooking when we use it as an instrument of comfort.
In my opinion, that’s no small thing!