13 December 2016

The Importance of Feeding People Well

I come from a family that is very talented in the kitchen. The food we make might not always be the most delicate or artistically designed, but it is amazingly delicious, and we have 100s of people who have eaten meals we've cooked who can attest to that as truth. Our pot roast with gravy, deviled eggs, 7-layer salad, mashed potatoes, and mint surprise cookies are famous across several countries. Even our potato salad is loved by complete strangers, which is funny, because we don't even like potato salad. (Who knew there would be such a taste for America's comfort foods in Southeast Asia?)

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!)

Feeding other people well costs money. It absolutely does. Investing into relationships, showing people that you value and appreciate them costs money, and it should. Where our money is, there our heart is, right? Or something like that. Since moving to Malaysia, I've had to get used to living on a much tighter budget. That budget will always have room for feeding people in it. Maybe my 'meat dish' at a potluck will be my homemade chili, since the way I make it it has hardly any expensive ground beef anyway, but it's amazingly delicious and satisfying nonetheless. Some of the best and most extravagant meals I've ever eaten have been at the homes of people who live in the simplest of circumstances, so I am convinced that feeding others need not be a service opportunity open only to the rich.

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?


  1. Your mom's rule for potlucks is so smart, and I'm going to keep that in mind next time I go to a potluck! I really love this whole reflection on food in general-I never thought before about the quality of food & expense, but you make such an excellent point! My parish does a meal train for new moms that I'm a part of, and I-admittedly-usually make whatever is cheap, tasty, and easy. But now, I want to spend a little more money to make something "fancier" in the future.

    That stinks that you weren't fed well at events you've attended! I think that some people honestly just don't understand the importance of feeding others.I'm glad that my mom instilled that importance in me from a young age-any time you walk into the house, she's offering food to you. And if you decline, she brings out food anyway (and one time, she looked out the kitchen window and saw some friends of mine, and actually ran outside to invite them to eat cake with us!).

  2. I love cooking and I love feeding people. I'm not big on huge displays of affection and it's hard for me to adequately express my level of gratitude or appreciation but I can feed people. Whether it's inviting people over for supper, preparing a special snack or dropping them off some muffins, it's thoughtful and people (almost) always appreciate a good home cooked meal or treat.

  3. I think your family needs to adopt me (or at least let me come to one of your get togethers)--the food sounds amazing! :D That's great advice about bringing the meat dish instead of an appetizer or bread; I'd never thought about it before, but there ARE always a lot of salads and cheaper-to-fix dishes at things like that. My parents are always big on having huge family dinners even though it's just them, my sister, and I, our respective spouses, and my kids. Coming home from college to one of those family dinners wiped away any stress I had, and I can't wait until I can do the same for my kids!

  4. I love this. I've never thought about feeding people in these terms before, and I don't think I'll ever forget the rules your mom gave you. That never would have occurred to me to make sure to bring the meat dish. My mom is a fantastic cook, but she hates cooking. I never learned growing up, because the kitchen was a tense environment since cooking was never her favorite thing. I started slowly teaching myself to cook in college, and I love it. I've been building up my confidence by brining things to potlucks and inviting friends and family over for dinner, and there is a lot of satisfaction in feeding people well. I do think a lot about feeding James and Gracie well. I wish we could afford to do it for others more often.

  5. Lynn here. Just want you to know that I am totally guilty of bringing "cheap dishes" to potlucks. This post kinda slapped me in the face in a good way. Totally gonna do things differently going forward. Thanks so much for doing what you do. =)

  6. I completely agree with this :) My main love language is acts of service, which I often express through food. I like to send meals to people with new babies, who are sick or otherwise haven't got time to cook. I always make sure the meals are nicer than those I'd give to my own family! I think it runs in my family so I've never really thought about it too deeply. All that said, I need to do it more often!

  7. Rachel, you've been killing it with your posts lately--I've been reading along but just now could leave a note because the end of the semester was wild. First, I wanted to say that your resort trip looked so lovely. It was incredibly thoughtful of the hotel to make your stay more special for your anniversary--it's the little surprises like that that mean so much. And of course, I have to comment on the bok choi--it looked incredible!

    Speaking of food, I really appreciated this post--I'm the kind of person who keeps track of finances meticulously, but being generous really is one of the best ways to show you care. Even if it takes longer and is more expensive, a lovingly-prepped dish is so worth it for everyone. Definitely good to keep in mind this holiday season :)

    imperfect idealist

  8. I love cooking and eating! It is so satisfying a feeling after attending to my family, giving them a good meal...

  9. I so agree with you! I think it is such an act of love to feed people well. The missionaries in Asia always fed people well and I think that says a lot about them. I do love to cook though, it's a destresser for me so it actually works out well. I'm glad your family does a good job of this. I think it's neat.

  10. Your mom's tips about potlucks are spot on! Chili is actually a go-to for me for potlucks because our recipe is always such a hit and it's a little more complex than a loaf of bread from the store or a veggie tray. Though to be totally honest, I do love a good veggie tray and have definitely brought one to parties on occasion when the main courses are already taken care of. :)

  11. I love this so so so so so so much! :) It's very true! Just a little work can make people feel loved, as can a lot. So many have less and less time to cook and eat well, especially with others, so sharing your food is such a needed thing these days! Thank you for sharing this! XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

  12. This is so true. I'll admit, I've been guilty of skimping or avoiding potlucks and not inviting people over because I don't want to cook. It's not really my thing. But as you've said, it doesn't have to be beautiful or expensive. It just needs to be heartfelt. That's part of what I'm wanting to change this year. To invite more people over and host more things. And to be more hospitable. I needed to read this today for sure!