41: A Mouthful of Meatloaf

41: A Mouthful of Meatloaf

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

A Mouthful of Meatloaf

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

~M. F. K. Fisher

I often feel guilty when I recall Benjamin Franklin’s quote: “One should eat to live, not live to eat.” After all, it would seem to make sense to treat food as the fuel of life and nothing more.

Yet I have to admit that my life has been filled with instances where I put food first and was definitely living to eat. And I suspect that if Mr. Franklin, a noted gastronome and Francophile, had been completely honest, there were many occasions when he, too, would have agreed with this sentiment. Personally, I have a longstanding emotional relationship with what I eat.

The emotional value of food hit home fourteen years ago when my wife Cheryl faced a life-threatening crisis. We were novice parents of a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Sarah and just emerging from the haze that is early child rearing.

Cheryl and I decided to take a midwinter weekend break and head to a lodge in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec noted for its fine cross-country ski trails and its even finer food. But the break was not the restful getaway we had hoped for.

As we drove through a snowstorm on our way to the resort, Cheryl fell sick. At one point, we stopped and almost called off the trip but Cheryl seemed to recover and we carried on. Once we reached the resort, however, she felt worse and spent most of the weekend feeling nauseous and fatigued.

When we got home, Cheryl’s symptoms worsened and she finally saw her doctor. He immediately sent her for tests and a colonoscopy. The shock of that test result was devastating. Cheryl was only thirty-eight but she had colon cancer.

Thanks to the quick and efficient efforts of her doctors and her surgeon, Cheryl’s cancer was removed and she would make a full recovery. But once the operation was done and Cheryl’s post-operative hospital stay was over, we had to cope with her at-home recovery. Since I had to go back to work, we temporarily hired a nanny to look after Sarah during the day while Cheryl rested in bed.

While I was at work, our helpful nanny not only looked after Sarah, she also cooked meals for us to enjoy. And on weekends, I exercised my dormant cooking skills to help feed the family.

Looking back, what I find notable is that almost all of the meals were basic comfort foods. The nanny prepared such simple and nourishing dishes as pot roast and chicken soup. And without thinking about it, I strayed from my usual limited cuisine and reverted to basic recipes from my childhood.

I started cooking meatloaf and casseroles and macaroni and cheese. Classic comfort foods that hearkened back to my family meals and, as it turned out, Cheryl’s family meals, too.

It was as if I wanted to wrap Cheryl, Sarah and myself in the warmth and familiarity of simple meals, meals that would make us feel safe and whole again. The satisfaction of eating those meals was not just the physical satiety they produced but also the emotional warmth they provided.

By preparing comfort foods, I felt like I was comforting Cheryl and myself. We had both been traumatized by her illness and food was the salve that healed our wounds.

It wasn’t long before Cheryl regained her strength and we reverted to our regular cuisine. But to this day, every once in a while, I’ll make a dish from those post-cancer days. Because sometimes I just need a bit of comfort and a mouthful of meatloaf is often the best medicine.

~David Martin

More stories from our partners