Monday, March 26, 2012

Big Meals Keep on Turning

(Photo Courtesy of Drew Shonka)

A friend of mine, whose child is on a very restricted diet due to some health challenges, recently commented to me that she had never realized before how much she used food to express love and comfort for her children. This got me thinking about how I see the married roles of food and love in my own life.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with a mother who expresses her creativity through the planning and preparation of food. She pores over newspapers, magazines and cookbooks looking for inspiration. She watches the Food Network. She is kept awake during the night with menu minutiae before a big party.  One day, long ago, she told me that she saw the daily act of planning, cooking, and serving a meal as an expression of love from beginning to end. This tiny revelation, shared in a fleeting moment in the kitchen, changed my understanding of my mother immensely. My mother is discerning and does not suffer fools lightly. She often has a sharp tongue and a biting wit. But those who know my mom best also know that she is fiercely loyal, always dependable and a caring friend beneath the prickly shell. The recognition that the large percentage of her day was devoted to love and service, nourishing her family -which also often includes a large network of friends- was an awakening for me. Every recipe clipped, every trip to the grocery, every pot and pan scrubbed was an act of tenderness, easily overlooked.

 Of course now that I am a mother myself, I see how my time devoted to growing, planning and preparing food is laced with care. I have also been graced with dozens, if not hundreds of wonderful meals prepared by friends and community members. Which is to say that the older I am, and the more I examine the historical, cultural, and emotional aspects of food and our relationships with it, I am grateful to live in a community where food not only provides the basic calories necessary to make it through a day, but where it is appreciated as a form of beauty and creative expression; where the preparation of food, from farm to table is viewed as foundational nourishment  -on physical, emotional and spiritual planes.

When we first moved out to our small agricultural town, I was surprised and slightly befuddled to discover a whole new layer of food culture. First, the common practice of “potlucks” –for any and all occasions- was a new, and somewhat disorienting practice for one with stodgy Eastern roots. On a recent visit, my mother was completely shocked as I hosted a dinner party for 25 people from a prone position on the couch as I wrangled a crushing case of Lyme disease. The ability to give up control -to trust that others could and would happily put together a fabulous meal- has been a hard-won gift from living here.

But true awakening has come in the form of the “meal wheel”.  The meal wheel is another one of those "new-old" ideas that makes so much sense, has been practiced throughout history, amongst many cultures, but is being re-discovered and refined with the aid of technology.

A meal wheel is established under any circumstance of extra need: the birth of a baby, an illness or death, a natural disaster, or any other circumstance in which extra support is needed. Though friends and family have supported each other with meals for as long as memory serves, the beauty of the meal wheel is that it draws from a much larger pool than any one individual’s closest circle. My first exposure to meal wheels came over 10 years ago when many of my friends were still having babies. One person, usually a close friend of the person in need of support, would take on the task of coordinating the meal wheel and getting the word out. As time went on, members of the community –some closely tied, others just wishing to offer sustenance- would call the coordinator and sign up for a day (or days) to bring a meal to the family. It is such a simple task –we all make dinner as it is, so it usually is not a lot of extra trouble to double the recipe, and the provider can usually choose a day that works into his/her schedule with some ease. But when the simple offering of a single meal as a gesture of support is magnified and expanded by the invisible web of a wider community, the impact is profound. In our tiny town, recipients of meal wheels have often had meals delivered to their homes for more than 6 weeks. Let's face it. It feels good to offer support to someone in need. People want to help. And the gift of a meal is both simple and complete. It is an offering of nourishment to body and soul alike. Friends who have been the recipients of meal wheels report being both stunned and humbled by such outpouring of support. The body is nourished and the stress of having to think about food is eased, but more importantly, the tangible evidence of love and support from people they may not even know very well, has far-reaching repercussions. It is a ripple of love, returned in matching pieces of Tupperware.

These days, the meal wheel is even easier to implement. Gone are the days of day- planners and the good luck needed to catch someone on the phone at a convenient time. The most recent crisis to hit our neighborhood introduced us to a new, online grid called “Meal Train” making it even easier to plug in.

If you are interested in starting a meal wheel in your community, try using the Meal
Train website:

Try it and see how the nexus of food and love can transform a life.


  1. "...the tangible evidence of love and support from people they may not even know very well, has far-reaching repercussions"

    I'm all teary-eyed now.

  2. THIS IS YOUR MOM!!! Thank you. I'm so glad you found your way through my "prickly" ways to the core of love lying below. I just want you to know that the "stodgy" east has had the meal wheel for as long as I can remember- it just doesn't have the same label. I have done many. Furthermore, it is rare we go to a friend's house empty handed, even if it's just a bottle of wine. That's it from here - back to the kitchen! LOVE!