Column: Food is a blessing that brings us together

How does food become an item in our lives? We are a nation obsessed about either our intake of food or our avoidance of food for dietary reasons. What kind of food, what vitamins and minerals does it contain, to say nothing about the physical presentation and results in our intestines? Every step of food in our culture is important, written about photographed, and presented in slick magazines making one either drool or attempt the recipe as seen in the glossy publication. I am a Chaplain with a few food skills and this article is not about my culinary skills. This article is about the social aspects of eating.

Food is a necessity for human life. It is a primary function of all life in general, even the lowly paramecium must eat. Humans have developed over generations not only eating habits but also dining. From the practical to dining extravagantly. Currently, many of us eat something on a bun, protein of some sort, wrapped in waxy paper, and handed through a drive-through window.

Food, believe it or not, has memory connected to it. It is part of the recognition of past pleasures, smells that live somewhere in our memory, as satisfying. We often connect these memories to people, our grandmother, for instance, the smell of freshly baked cookies, bread and sauces that only she could make. For me, it was my mother’s rolls, no matter how I try I can’t make them like her. Her pound cake, survival cookies, spaghetti sauce and so much more.

Religion also has the concept of using food as a sacramental, that is food used in a service. Communion comes to mind. Jesus himself offers communion in the Last Supper to his apostles, communion where food takes on a sacramental role of God entering us. The Jews have the Passover feast, a historical commemoration built on food served. Every country has a special dish to celebrate its uniqueness. Food is a cultural marker in our lives.

Food is an important crossroads in a family table. In our culture, due to sports, work schedules or other pressing situations, it is not often that a family sits down together for dinner anymore. Food has become something we have to fuel up on, almost like a car. Due to our rushing lives and important events, we seem to sustain ourselves on an aluminum bag filled with crisps or nuggets of sweetness. No, I can’t get into calorie counts here, but 42% of Americans are overweight. Is there a correlation between what we eat on the run and our health? There is a reason it is called FAST FOOD.

The family today is almost an endangered species. It is difficult when parents both work, children need attention and food needs to be provided. Mother often, has been at work all day. Perhaps she has been to the grocery store. She now must get the food into the house, put it away, and think “What will we have for dinner.” She must prepare it. If children were involved in some of these tasks, it would help the mother and give the child a meaningful task for the whole family’s benefit. Food can be a great harmonizer for the family itself. Children can learn multiple lessons in the kitchen much to the family’s benefit and the child’s future. Knowing how to make a casserole for dinner gives the child skills they can use later in life and wins the families’ praise for the child for doing it. A win-win all around.

I know it is hard but get the family to sit down together for a meal, if not for the weekdays, the weekend may do. A place to talk, praise the accomplishments of the members and find information about what each person is doing. Enjoy the food that is served and celebrate the unity of family and friends. Relax, dinner is not waiting on a train schedule. You can take your time. Get rid of the phones (put them in a basket) this time is sacred for parents and children. The food is part of the celebration, it need not be expensive or a culinary extravaganza. But it is a communion between all attending. When we take time to be with our family, it is a blessing. God who is present in each of us, rejoices in our unity.So much today is rushing about, food gets less attention, as well as the need to see the others we live with. Demand a place of refuge, your dinner table, where food and family meet and eat. Food and our need for it becomes the humble vehicle of joy! Food can be one of the great tools to keep a family together.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:19).

Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.


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