My momma has said it a thousand times, and her mother before her did the same. But I never thought a thing about it until it came out of my own mouth, and my best friend (who’d never heard it before) pointed out the oddity of the statement.
My best friend and I live just a couple houses away from one another. We’d been outside watching the baby play and playing a little bit ourselves, and it was getting close to supper time. We really weren’t ready to end our visit, so we started to think of how we might feed our families together, and I said “Well, I’ve got some stew that needs eatin’.”
“Needs eatin’ ?” she said.
My family lived in close community with one another when I was growing up. Near the end of Willson Ridge, our home was just a few steps from my mother’s mother’s home, and my uncles, their wives, and children also had homes just a few steps away.
It should be noted here that when I was 10, my mom and dad bought a brick house at auction for what we’d now consider next to nothing. It was on the main road a whole MILE away from my MaMa and my cousins, and I thought I was some sort of fairy princess from then on out, but that’s fodder for another blog.
But back before the move, and really long after, it was commonplace for MaMa to cook enough to feed the whole clan. Depending on work schedules and other activities, we might not all actually be there to eat, and she’d get a backlog on food.
This was NOT ok. Because waste is shameful folks. And if you don’t know that, then I don’t know what to think about you, and you should probably quit reading right here. lol.
So to get us all fed, but perhaps more importantly to prevent waste, MaMa gave an almost daily report of what she had that needed eaten’. Often this included pinto beans, dumplings, chili, or in harvest time, tomatoes, greenbeans, corn.
The phrase was common parlance. We all knew what it meant, but on closer examination it reveals something a little deeper than avoiding waste, and it has parallels all across the language of rural life. Laundry needs washing. Seeds need planting. Tomatoes need canning, and the food needs eating.
It suggests an innate longing in all things, not just living things, to fulfill their purpose. It also suggests that when we facilitate that fulfillment, we will be fulfilled in turn.
I believe in this. To this day, few things give me more satisfaction than using up the last bit of something or seeing a task through to completion.
And the more I extrapolate this ethic of longing to fulfill one’s purpose, the better it feels. It doesn’t apply only to utilitarian matters you see. Bodies need moving. Songs need singing. Art needs viewing. Books need reading. Pets need petting.
Now, it is extremely important to note that I am NOT responsible for singlehandedly assuring that everyone and everything reaches fulfillment. Hallelujah.
Because what is also innate in stating you have food that needs eatin’ is an invitation. You can’t do it alone. You can’t put this food to use without help.
You see, we’re so quick to think of ourselves as an inconvenience rather than a blessing to others. But by eating supper with momma, you aren’t taking from her. You are HELPING her. You are helping the food even because it NEEDS eatin’.
Even when we all make our best efforts toward eating what needs eatin’, it is almost certain that some will be leftover occasionally. This is where where MaMa and momma have me beat. You see, they accept more willingly than I do that some things (and people) will not reach fulfillment (or at least not what might be considered the “highest” fulfillment).
Sometimes my fear and guilt about waste is so high, that I’ll force food that needs eatin’ on people. I’ll grieve over bodies that need moving sitting still. My sense of responsibility is too high, and before I know it, in the name of helping, I’m meddling and controlling lest anything or person go to “waste”.
What the mothers and grandmothers have to teach me is that it is Inevitable that some food is leftover, and we needn’t get up in arms about it. Some food, instead of feeding the family, may be used to slop the hogs, or feed the dogs or make compost for the garden and flower beds. This does NOT mean it is wasted.
Say some talented young woman with a great voice who could’ve gone on to be a famous performer, sings her babies to sleep instead, her voice is NOT wasted. And in fact, who is to say that singing to the baby isn’t the highest fulfillment for that voice? Perhaps, the food that becomes compost ultimately participates in the feeding of more people than if it had been eaten in the first place. The worn out clothing that becomes a part of a quilt may serve longer than the original garment.
The persistence and hopefulness of making the most of whatever you have and sharing it with others is a legacy I will always cherish and one I sincerely hope to pass on. I hope my daughters offer what needs eatin’, to their neighbors, but perhaps more importantly, I hope they can accept the invitation of others. I hope they don’t turn up their noses at what their friends and neighbors have to offer. I hope they don’t think themselves too good, too grown, or too much trouble when things need eatin’.