Care giving has a big culinary component. Whether it’s about avoiding things that can hurt the person in your care, or sensory issues, or just plain provision of some comfort and pleasure, food is significant.
Some of you might have heard the news about the family of an autistic girl, removed from an airliner (on the ground, fortunately) because she only likes warm food, and the family was not sitting in the section of the plane where it was available. The pilot was worried that the girl might become agitated and disruptive, a legitimate concern, but decided to make an emergency landing and get the family off the plane rather than just authorize one warm meal in coach class.
I watched a documentary about frontier scout Kit Carson, and was touched by the way he died happy and at peace after a doctor honored his request for a buffalo steak instead of the medicinal gruel he was being fed in his final illness. Sometimes the wrong food is the right thing for someone in our care.
Our son had a great home therapist who wanted him to go on a special diet. We gave it a try because the therapist was so good with Joey and we valued his suggestions.
Joey hated the diet. Yes, it probably was healthy. But Joey’s behavior went downhill when we forced him to eat stuff that didn’t appeal to him, and his disposition and performance in therapy improved when we went back to the pizza and burger fare he preferred. (Just so you know, Joey has regular blood tests to monitor his medication level and side effects, and his health checks out pretty darn well even with all the salty carbs he munches.)
I know caregivers to people living with a variety of special needs, disabilities and illnesses, and it is common to hear how favorite foods are one of the few pleasures that those in their care can continue to enjoy.
Eating is one of humanity’s basic ways of bonding and socializing. So it is a means to overcome the isolation that those in our care can experience. It is one tool to overcome the social barriers created by autism. Last night I told Joey that we ordered some favorite food, and instead of hiding out with his videos or computer he came and sat in the front room with us to wait for the meal.
Today I had some time to cook, and I found an appealing enchilada casserole recipe. Joey ate a big plate of it, and I have to admit it made me feel good. So food can work for the caregiver as well (provided we don’t turn to overeating for comfort and damage our own health – something I’ve had to battle.)
There’s more to food than health and fuel, and that can be especially so when we provide care for others. There’s every reason to pause and give thanks, not only for nutrition but for the pleasure it brings.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalm 104:14-15 ESV)
Or else you can burst into a show tune. That’s a gratuitous family joke, because our older son, although a fantastic cook, hates musicals…