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Food & Fellowship

“Come over for dinner,” my mother-in-law texted, “I’m making chili!” 

A perfect October meal, I noted happily.

We relaxed in the living room together, me cradling a warm bowl of her delicious cooking. She noted that she wasn’t eating and explained, “You know, I made the most delicious granola this afternoon, and I got so excited that I ate an entire bowl of it, and now I’m not hungry. Here, try some! You know, I’ve officially decided that food is how I show love.”

She’s made the same announcement probably three times already this year, but I humor her and agree. Food is her way of showing love. I can’t count the meals I’ve been invited to eat at her table. Starting when Grant and I were just barely dating, she began inviting us over for any and every meal. Grilled chicken, fresh salads, homemade shortcake, oven-roasted asparagus: you name it, I’ve probably eaten it at Nancy Soderstrom’s table. When Grant was busy with work, she’d invite me over anyway.

As our relationship grows, our invitations become more and more casual. It’s a beautiful cohesion of food and fellowship. But the more I sit in the living room of my in-law’s sipping cool fresh tea or hot black coffee, munching on some recently concocted snack, the more I realize that this combination of eating and building relationships isn’t just a “Nancy thing.”

What is this connection between physical sustenance and nurturing friendships? I try to parse it apart into a cause and effect relationship, but the proper cause and the proper effect elude me. Do we gather because Nancy cooks, or does she cook because we gather? Is sitting down (or standing around) eating together the cause of the hearty fellowships we humans experience, or is gathering together making friends the cause of more meals and snacking?

Sometimes I think they are too intimately connected to divide. I can make a case for both arguments. My high school and college years were punctuated with spontaneous gatherings with homies, and inevitably we’d eventually all start debating whether we should order Domino's, walk to the China Buffet, or all make a Dairy Queen trip. Conversely, there are myriads of times when I’ve been invited to share a meal with somebody. A girlfriend will offer to fry burgers, or make homemade quesadillas - even whip up a batch of cocoa just to cuddle together. But regardless of the causes and effects of food and friendship (and the joining thereof), I think there is a depth to eating together.

Think about it. Making a meal for somebody means sharing your own ingredients, your budget, however meager it might be. It is to say “this one’s on me.” People feel worthwhile when you provide food for them. 

And more than that, you’re taking time. Even if it’s microwaved veggies or a frozen dinner, you’re preparing something for them to eat. Time and money, just to care for that person. Or perhaps you doubly invest the time, cooking and laughing and crying and stirring and just being together.

Finally, cooking is nourishing. When you make a meal, and eat with your friends or family, you’re nourishing more than just bodies; you’re caring for the relationships. That slice of food-money you put into sharing your veggies or making brownies is an investment of affection.

So I challenge you to eat together! Get some friends and try a new recipe. Make somebody a birthday cake. Cook something fancy with your bestie, or teach a younger sibling a simple recipe. You’ll enjoy the company, and you get to eat! It’s a win-win.

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