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Health, Family Style

By Dr. Kohar Jones
On August 11, 2013, was the church service remembering my grandmother. In Armenian culture, 40 days after a death, we commemorate with the Hokehankist--the "spirit rest," or requiem service.  My medzmama, Yerchanig Soukiassian Janjigian,  born in Turkey after a genocide, raised in Aleppo Syria, married and began raising her family in Beirut  Lebanon. They moved to Chicago in 1962 , where she finished raising and married her children, buried her husband and eventually died in her own home in Chicago.

She lived to a healthy age 90, cooking Sunday lunch every week for her family to gather around her kitchen table. The last Sunday lunch she served was two days before she died.

I loved her weekly ritual. She would make salad, and rice pilaf, to go with some variation on  tomatoes/ground meat/stuffed zucchini/eggplant/grapeleaves/onion. She would start cooking two days before the meal--making the stuffing on Friday, scooping out the zucchinis on Saturday, putting everything together so it would all be cooked and warm in the oven when guests arrived at 12:30 on Sundays to eat. The table was set with old fashioned gold-rimmed white china on a lace tablecloth crocheted by her mother.

We helped ourselves to food and dished out conversation about the events of the day and the week, in the world and in our own lives.  Rebel attacks on Christians in Aleppo, the new electric car, the cost of avocados at the grocery store, the rise in the costs of health insurance.   We spoke of everything and of nothing, from an individual and societal perspective.

Every meal ended with black coffee and a coconut/walnut sprinkled homemade marble cake.
"Moderation," she would always counsel, in any discussion about numbers and amounts and calories.
I quote it to my patients now, when diabetics ask if they can eat watermelon and hypertensives ask if they can eat ham.
"As my grandmother says," I used to say, "Everything in moderation."
Now I need to quote her dispensing her advice in past tense.

What does this have to do with health?

Health was having a loving family member cooking every day, and bringing the family together for a sit-down meal together every weekend. The social relationships fostered around a table of abundance prepared into delicious meals created a framework of family solidarity.
Health was the community created around the food.
Health was the trust of people coming together around something greater than themselves.

Medzmama brought us together.
Her food brought us together.
Her inquisitive spirit, combined with delicious sustenance, created family.

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