The immense value of cooking for others and, whenever you have the opportunity to feed someone, doing a fine job of it, was drilled into me at an early age, and I've seen its impact many times over the years.
When I was 12, I worked on my first roof, re-shingling my grandparents' house. Their house needed a new roof, and they couldn't put it on themselves, so they had family and church friends over for a weekend to get the roof completed. When we finished the roof, they fed all of us workers T-bone steaks they'd grilled. As a 12 year old, for one thing, I fell in love with working on roofs (little known fact about Rachel), and I also found out how, simply and effectively, Grandma and Grandpa showed their immense appreciation for all the people that took the time to come out and give them a new roof, just by cooking a fantastic meal.
When I was a kid, my mom taught me the rules of potlucks--always bring a meat dish, and always bring more than one dish if you can. The idea there is that meat dishes are more expensive, so many people avoid bringing them to potlucks, instead opting for the lesser investment of something like bread or a veggie tray. But if everyone chooses that easier, cheaper option, you'll be dining on a feast of french bread and fruits and veggies alone (which, considering I lean towards vegetarian, sounds glorious). However, Mom taught me--you should never be the one who takes the easier route--show that you value the friends you're eating with by making them a dish that takes more effort, that costs more for ingredients. Not as a matter of pride, but as a matter of the fact that people need to be fed, and you should always feed them well. As someone who is not much of a meat lover, this is not a rule I have always implemented according to the letter of the law, but I have implemented it in spirit--don't take the easiest and cheapest route when you have the opportunity to share food with friends. Put some effort and thought and investment into it--but you don't have to make a big deal about it and get all stressed out, either. My 14-year-old sister makes a homemade lunch from scratch for a dozen people three times a week. It's nothing artistic or technically excellent, but it's healthy food that everyone enjoys; simple, homey dishes like cashew chicken and stir-fried veggies with rice. If a teenager can do that with ease, surely we who are adults can contribute a few dishes to a potluck or host a dinner party without griping about it.
I do not love cooking. But it's a necessity of life, and a way to serve my family and friends, and I cook very well. As a freshman in college, I attended a Thanksgiving potluck with a pot of fried bi hun with chicken and a batch of molasses cookies. That's the infamous potluck where Angel ate 5 of my cookies and took some home--and started changing his opinion of me as a 'weird homeschooled kid.' My college sophomore sister carries on the 'college student who cooks' legacy by bringing batches of brownies to class on days when she's giving presentations.
When we lived in Michigan, we'd have summer barbecues of carne asada tacos and invite the whole gang over. If my uncle or grandpa was around, working on the farm, when I started cooking dinner, I'd make them a plate. When we first moved to China, we made it our mission to invite everyone we met and made friends with over for at least one meal at our house during our year there, and we did--despite the fact that our kitchen had exactly 4 sq. ft. of floor space.
By feeding people well, you show that they are valuable. I've attended several events recently where I, and the other people who attended, were not fed well. Cold rice with a bit of chicken curry and a spoonful of canned baked beans served in a plastic box with a bottle of water. I didn't feel welcomed, or appreciated for attending. I didn't feel important or valued. I felt like I might as well have stayed home, cooked my own lunch, and then at least I could have eaten well. I would not be inclined to participate again in events hosted by the same people, for the simple reason that it seemed like no thought and little expense was put into my meal.
(Thanksgiving this year--Two chickens took up the entire oven, but the green bean casserole needed to be heated before dinner, so we used the radiating heat from the top of the oven. It worked!)
Next week, I'm part of the leadership team that's running an event requiring over 50 volunteers--people who are spending their Christmas week helping us accomplish a large project that we, the leaders, have been dreaming of and working toward for the past 6 months. I'm going to do my part to make sure those volunteers know that their service is appreciated by the food they are served--earlier this week I bought some hard-to-find molasses and Andes mints so that I can get to baking my favorite cookies for them (those ingredients belong in two different recipes, it should be noted).
When have you felt loved and appreciated because someone put the time and effort into feeding you good food? When do you have the opportunity to show your appreciation by feeding others?