An open door created a pathway between young adults laughing at the center table and napping on the back couch to Eva, the woman who made the office a home for them. A loveseat and cushioned chair encircled her table of snacks: today a full loaf of bread with a large peanut butter jar sidling up to grape jelly and some Mexican candies, the standard cheeseballs and animal crackers seated on her desk next to the Keurig and hot tea. If God is a provider, and if he has any love, he made himself clear through her food.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, giving gifts, acts of service, and quality time. The Office of Multicultural Development, described above, held conversations about this very thing. How do you give love? How do you receive it?
The OMD, as we called the earth-toned space, also taught me that our conversations were incomplete. It was Eva that taught me the sixth love language: food.
African food and friends: beans made Angolan style, foufou, pilipili — all in the Illinois kitchen where I hosted so many friends. PC: KSB
God gave us food for many reasons: It gives us the energy and nutrients to physically sustain our bodies. It grants us joy through its countless flavors and even touches our souls when done with excellence. It creates community when people cook or dine together. It communicates culture as well.
Sharing food with others could be seen as a gift – say you deliver cookies to your friends during finals or mail your best friend a box of protein bars to make sure she is eating. It could be seen as an act of service, bringing rice porridge to someone who is ill or keeping mandazi and chai on hand for your wife when she’s recently brought a new life into the world. Even quality time and the sharing of food go together like PB&J. Thus, I don’t believe it fits in any one love language; I believe it is one to itself.
Personally, I feel loved by food. I feel both taken care of and cared for. Aside from Eva’s “care days,” or grand parties to bring students into the office and show them love, she offered her regular snacks daily—one of her rules was that you had to take something from her office once you stepped foot in it, even if it was just a teabag—and kept a secret stash of almonds just for me when I had dietary limitations.
Eva was so thoughtful, and in all practicality, she and the OMD provided my lunches for much of my college career. That’s how I was sustained, and that’s part of why I felt so loved there. Eva knew her students and what they liked and could or couldn’t have. She gave food out of the love in her heart.
She’s not the only one to love through food; it’s a large part of hospitality in Congolese, Burundian, and Rwandan cultures, for example. You’re sure to be served ugali, water, chai, Fanta if it’s on hand.
Once, my Rwandan friend picked me up from an airport and took me to his family’s apartment, where, although it was at least 10 pm and perhaps closer to midnight, I was made to eat a platter of vegetables and rice before I could sleep. More food, I’m always told I need more food. Food is vital to life, central to hospitality, and part of how people love others.
I currently work at a restaurant, and I have dubbed one of my coworkers “Official Sandwich Maker of the KSB (my initials)” since he thoughtfully puts together delectable, healthy sandwiches out of foods we can no longer serve to customers. I feel loved when I see him staring at the line thinking about what I would most like after I request something to fill my breakfast-deprived stomach, or when he gives me a fresh egg that was “definitely expired,” or when he pops around the corner to hand me a brown box with his creation simply as a surprise. Whether he is aware of this or not, he loves me through food.
I’ll forever be thankful to the OMD for loving me and for teaching me how to love others a little better. As part of being hospitable, I too enjoy giving food. One of my favorite activities is cooking together with friends, dancing around the kitchen to Kenyan pop while catching up on life and testing flavors to create something excellent. Biting into something so delicious draws me closer to God, enhancing our relationship in that moment of gratitude. Finally, I am honored to serve others food when they are sad, sick, or struggling. Thus, food connects with so many love languages and yet is its own.
Hanging out with my young friend, sharing ugali and sombe. PC: KSB
What are your love languages? How can you relate to the love language of giving or receiving food?
Birthday ice cream with one of my best friends, Ili. PC: KSB
For more posts on this subject, read “Lunchtime in the DRC (Learning How to Eat),” which mentions Mama Julienne and how she loved me through food, and “MuKappa: A Taste of Heaven,” which hits on the communal aspect of food.
As MuKappa, our Sunday events were centered around dinner. This particular photo captures the surprise birthday party that Cabinet threw me, complete with homemade soft pretzels. PC: KSB