It may seem heretical
to say it here in the South, but funeral food – that reflexive response to tragic news – can have a downside.
Especially in small towns and rural communities, taking sliced ham, deviled eggs (“stuffed” eggs in some locales), potato salad, green-bean casseroles, pimiento cheese sandwiches, pecan pie, and the like to the home of a bereaved family is as ingrained as offering words of condolence or signing the guest book at the visitation.
It’s natural to want to help, and chances are that family members and friends will be returning home from far-flung places, providing a houseful of folks to feed for several days.
Besides, funeral food gives rise to the Southerner’s paraphrase of Julius Caesar: “I came. I saw. I cooked.”
Where such beneficence becomes troublesome is when it arrives in such mass that (1) the recipient family must take time away from grieving and visiting to try to manage it all, and (2) food ends up spoiling because it exceeds available capacity of all onsite refrigerators and/or stomachs.
The other downside is that we can forget that grieving goes on long after the funeral, and providing at least occasional meals is one way friends can continue to take burdens off the mourning family.
Churches often head off such problems by having a funeral committee overseeing who’s going to bring what, how much, and when.
Websites like Take Them a Meal can also help coordinate a pantry posse. Take Them A Meal allows one friend to set up a schedule, with input from the grieving family, so any group of friends can bring kitchen-born love on a timetable that makes it most welcome and useful.
The website also allows listing of food allergies and preferences, suggests recipes, and offers insights in its blogs about everything from suitable meal-transport containers to non-bereavement issues such as how to make a hospital stay easier on both patient and family.
Take Them A Meal lets friends see what dishes others bring so no family need burn out from three straight nights of tuna casserole or spaghetti and meatballs. The website suggests recipes, and for those with more money than time or culinary skill, there are tempting send-them-a-meal options.
With a little coordination, the culinary compassion of a neighborhood, church, or social group can give a mourning family whole new insights into the term “comfort food.”
For generations yet to come, we hope it will continue to be a part of helping others grieve well.
Tell us what you think.