As Jewish women, we spend an inordinate amount of time cooking. There are all the holidays, there's Shabbos, in fact there's every night of the week! Some of us enjoy it more than others (although I've been know to resent the suggestion that because I like cooking, it is therefore effortless for me!), some like the creativity, some like the idea of nourishing their family, some of us just like to eat. But whether it's pleasurable or stressful or occasionally both, we do a lot of it.
I don't think it's just because we're obligated to. I don't think it's just because it's cheaper than takeout. I think that, psychologist's warning to the contrary, food is an expression of love. There are of course unhealthy ways of using food to express love (especially if the goal is self-love instead of love of others), but in general preparing and serving food is an act of kindness and caring. While my husband has been known to say that anyone who can read can bake, not everyone that can read does bake.
When realtors try to sell a house they frequently spray cinnamon throughout to give it that homey feeling. The kitchen is often the warmest place in the home, the gathering spot, the center of family life, and even sometimes of entertaining. This is no accident. The warmth that exudes from the kitchen is not just oven heat; it's the warmth of family and closeness. It's the warmth of love, with food the vehicle.
It is not food in isolation that is an expression of love. It is not food on grocery shelves or at deli counters. It is food prepared by mothers (and fathers). It is food that is used to create a home, to create connection, to create celebration, to embrace family and friends.
In creating the meals, we are creating homes, nurturing environments. What could be more important?
It is one of our most basic ways of giving. When someone is sitting shiva, we bring food. It is to satisfy the mourner's physical and psychological hunger -- to fill their stomachs and their hearts. And it is to satisfy our desire to help, to give, to do something that says "I care."
Whenever we have guests over, our instinct is to feed them (even if they weren't invited for dinner!). It's not because they are, God forbid, impoverished and wouldn't eat otherwise. It's because that's how we express friendship and hospitality (and get them to come back again!).
When someone moves into the neighborhood, we bake a cake. On Purim we deliver baskets of food. When a friend has a simcha to celebrate, the first question we ask is "Can I make anything?"
The Almighty could have made us completely self-sustaining without any need for food. Or He could have made us without any need for prepared food (like the adherents of the "raw" movement). There are many reasons He didn't choose this road. Perhaps one is this opportunity to give, to express our caring in a clear and concrete way. (You can't give diamonds every day!)
It is worthwhile to make our kitchens bright and cheery since we spend so much time there. And even though the preparation usually takes much longer than the eating, it doesn't matter. The pleasure and gratitude and satiation last (till bedtime snack anyway...).
Some people make the mistake of thinking, "All that effort and nothing to show for it." What about your family that feels nourished, warmed, cared for? What about your friends who also feel loved and valued? What about yourself? In creating the meals, we are creating homes, nurturing environments. What could be more important?
Food is definitely love, and I say "Bring it on."