Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The funeral dinner...

As a dutiful small Methodist church woman, Jan has made who-know-how-many dishes for and organized funeral dinners for beloved friends and total strangers who availed themselves of this touching ministry.

It may be about to end as a church custom, I'm afraid, and the loss will be immense. Not to knock professional catering, but for many of us it has been an abiding gesture of caring in a dark hour.

The history of this tradition may begin far earlier than we think.
What's really interesting is that the Natufian people, who lived in the area 14,500 to 11,500 years ago, seem to have been the first to settle down in fairly permanent villages, and the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would have caused friction and strained social relationships, the researchers say. Community members were coming into contact more often, and they could no longer go their separate ways to find new sources of food when arguments arose. But feasts may have helped ease that transition, and funerals would have provided a good opportunity to bring the community together to soothe disputes, as Munro notes in a write-up
Sedentary communities require other means to resolve conflict, smooth tensions, and provide a sense of community. We believe that feasts, especially in funeral contexts, served to integrate communities by providing this sense of community.
Moral of the tale: if you want more sense of community, make a pie and some scalloped potatoes for total strangers in mourning.


Karl M. Hess said...

How timely... Not a funeral meal, but just last evening we had an unplanned phone call from a Missouri friend who was spending the night in a motel less than 10 miles away. He wanted to see us, but did not have the time to drive our way, needed to do 'paperwork'. Elma just happened to make 3 items for supper, so while I fed our cattle, she finished putting a meal together and we drove to our friend's motel (final adjustments on the cornhead will have to wait one more day) and shared supper with him. He was relieved he did not have to go somewhere to find his supper, and we got to visit for an hour while we ate. During our time together he called his wife and gave the phone to Elma, and we had a 'guy talk'. Call the next time you and Jan are in Lancaster County, Pa. and we will try and do that again! :-)

Anonymous said...

The days of friends and family Mise en place funeral dinners are indeed near their end. Each time I attend the prepared egg salad sandwich funeral dinner at my church, now in the gymnasium instead of the basement fellowship hall, I chuckle as the board above the food list the usual list of basketball concessions with prices. I wonder if this will be future of funeral food instead of the 80 year old plus women currently serving minced meat pies.

Anonymous said...

Do you realize how unsafe and risky these funeral and church pot luck meals are? Who knows how some of these meals are prepared and the conditions in which they are transported to the unsuspecting victims (who are already in mourning).
Simply because they have a "religious" affiliation they get off the hook. These affairs should be closely regulated and scrutinised by the FDA and the HHS.
It is outrageous that in the most advanced country in the world we have not addressed this hole in our public safety standards that is big enough to drive egg truck through!!!!

Anonymous said...

Gosh, thought Jan was of average height.

My favorite is small apple farmer wants to ......

John Phipps said...


you are not far off. Our local health department has pretty well quashed some kinds of pies at bake sales. (e.g. coconut cream)


When I re-read this post I realized I had left myself open on that sentence. But I thought, "The guys will let this one slide..."