Chicken and noodles. Lunch meat platters with croissants. Homemade mac and cheese. The best coffee cake you've ever eaten. A chocolate cake for my birthday.
All this and more poured into my mother's kitchen just before and just after her death last month. All from friends and neighbors, wanting to help. Wanting to comfort.
And they did.
Food is powerful, is it not? Not just for sustenance, though it handles that well, too. But for comfort for a grieving family, for a sick family, for a family that's just had a baby. Our church, like a lot of others, specializes in delivering meals – a ministry, all in its own.
Food as help and comfort is universal, so say my new Chicago mom friends, who report that their temples and suburbs do the same. Whether in the shadow of a high rise or down the dusty gravel roads of southern Illinois, food helps make it better.
I will admit; it was an odd thing to be on the receiving end. Aside from a week's worth of meals brought in after my babies were born, we've not been in this position before. I've cooked and delivered many a meal myself, worrying whether I was coming at the very most wrong time for a grieving family. Worrying if it was what they needed or not. Or if they've already eaten beef and noodles three times that week. This winter, the day after our friend was killed, I had to go to Wal-mart and, remembering that I'd run into his daughter Erin the last time I was there, texted her to see if there was anything at all she needed. And bless her heart, she texted back a list that included but was not limited to diapers and fresh fruit. I was thrilled to help, because the last thing she needed to be worrying about was diapers. Really. Of all things. And the fruit – she asked for it because her sweet mother wouldn't eat anything but she loved fruit and Erin thought she might eat that. Sure enough, she did.
Food is powerful.
And early last fall, when my mother was very ill from the chemotherapy – in fact, so ill, we didn't know if she would come through at all – she had been refusing food, then woke up one morning and asked for bunny tracks ice cream. And dad made a fast trip into town for the ice cream. By the next week, she had gradually improved in the smallest increments, and my four best friends from high school and their mothers set up a schedule where they delivered meals every other day to Mom and Dad, for weeks on end – a huge relief to me, living several hours away and needing to return to my own family.
But with the food, Mom and Dad felt loved and cared for and really enjoyed the visits. Sustenance, on many levels. I wasn't there, but I understand much reminiscing was done over some of our greater teenage escapades. And if Mom learned something she didn't already know – which wouldn't surprise me – she never admitted it.
And when my family and I returned home from her services, rung out from days of care, funeral services and, to top everything off, the flu, I walked into a clean house and a meal in my refrigerator, courtesy of a sweet friend and my mother-in-law. I've hardly felt so cared for. A few days later, UPS delivered a Schwan's meal, sent from one of my favorite college girlfriends, with a note that if she lived closer, she would've brought us supper so she sent this instead.
So what is this, for us as farmers? It is to know that the food we produce is precious. We know we're sustaining life. We know the population is exploding.
But do we know – do we consider – what else food is? Help, healing, comfort, sustenance, love, all of which has very little to do with the physical.
Consider that the next time you hear a consumer worry about how it's grown. How you did it. Food is a big deal. And so are the people who grow it.