Nourishment from the Heart

For those of you who don’t know, Bubbie is the Yiddish term for grandmother. And even more important, for those of you who don’t know, my Bubbie was arguably one of the greatest Bubbie’s ever on the planet. She was the embodiment of unconditional love. I actually can’t recall ever seeing her without a smile on her face. Her mission in life was simple  – bear children, raise them, feed them, love them, and then repeat same with grandchildren. The more I study nutrition and eating psychology, the more I learn about the science of food and how it impacts our DNA and our metabolism, the more I come to respect the simple and timeless eating wisdom that my grandmother stood for. Once you ate her meals, you understood in your bones that food is really love. You knew in your heart that food cooked with love touches the body and soul in a way that can last forever.

I’d like to share with you a story about food and love and the timeless heart of a grandmother that changed me to the core, and helped inspire me on a mission to transform the way the world nourishes itself. I think it would make my grandmother very happy if you listened.

First, let’s talk about the menu. I wish this didn’t sound so cliché, but this amazing grandmother really knew how to make chicken soup. This was the real old world stuff. Real chickens who were running around on a real farm eating real food and cared for by real people. She spent hours preparing the chicken, the vegetables, talking, smiling, and being the center of the universe in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn New York. Even as a young child, I knew I was in the presence of someone special. Her smile could light up the world. Her generous nature was extended to all. She spoke Russian, Yiddish, English, Polish, and wore a hearing aid that made a funny buzzing noise and never really quite worked. I think hearing aids today are much more efficient.

And somehow, it always came back to the food.

We all gathered around her table because there was no better place to be. Feuding relatives came together and ate in peace. The hard-working men and tired housewives of my family would find refuge in her meals. Bubbie knew how to feed people without even trying.

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She didn’t so much know her place in the world as she simply lived it and occupied it and breathed it every day. I think if I had three wishes for the world, it’s that every child born would have a Bubbie like the one I had. World peace would be assured.  Everyone would be well fed. Good health would be forthcoming. And you would know that you were loved, and that the old ones are indeed the best ones.

The unfortunate thing about grandparents is that they’re closer to death’s door than the rest of us, and often what that means is ill health, or disease, has an easier time of finding a home in the body of our elders. At some point in her 70s, she degenerated fast. I don’t remember what they called it back then, but these days we call it dementia or perhaps Alzheimer’s. She started losing her memory, she couldn’t recognize people, and no one knew what to do. So my parents put her in a home for old people who needed care and attention round-the-clock. Everybody cried. Once inside, she deteriorated even more.

At some point, she went into a vegetative state. She couldn’t eat and was often put on a feeding tube. At other times, she could take spoonfuls of Jello or pudding. She had no control over her body, her head and neck would spasm and move in every random direction, her eyes could no longer focus and would just roll around in her head, and she could no longer speak. Sadly, she was in this state for about four years. Once a week we would visit her, and my mother would feed her, brush her hair, and cry. 12-year-old me would do my best to be a man for my mom and keep it together while she fell apart.

I wanted to feed my Bubbie the spoonfuls of Jell-O, but for some reason, my mother wouldn’t let me. I’m not sure why, but I’m sure she had a good reason. Jell-O seemed such a strange food to give to such a noble and nourishing woman. Perhaps Jell-O is the one food that bookends so many lives. We give it to the very young, and we give it to those who are exiting this world. The field of nutrition surely has its irony.

So my story goes like this:

One weekend, on a visit to this precious old woman – her name was Esther Weinstein – like the many visits we did before, my mother brushed her hair, fed her Jell-O, and cried. But this time – and I hadn’t noticed this before – my mother needed to find a restroom, but didn’t want to leave me alone with my grandmother. She’d never left me alone with her before. Perhaps my mom was trying to care for my sensitive soul. She was torn. Somehow, leaving me alone with the shell of my Bubbie, head rolling, eyes spinning, mouth drooling would be too much for me. But I assured her I’d be okay. So she left the room. And then something very interesting happened:

Alone with my grandmother, sitting by her bedside, I picked up the spoon, dipped it into the Jell-O, and was about to feed her for the first time, ever. And before I could, she turned to me, her eyes perfectly focused and clear, her neck positioned to face me squarely, and she started speaking in the most articulate and lucid way.

This is what she said:

“Please, don’t ever let this happen to you. I know who I am, I know what I’m thinking, I know what I want to say, but I just can’t say it. I can almost speak the words, but they never come out. You don’t know how terrible this is. Please don’t let this happen to you. Please don’t let this ever happen to you. Just take care of yourself. I want you to be safe”

With her eyes still locked onto mine, piercing through me with the wisdom of the ages, with pain and anguish and longing, she began speaking in Yiddish, the language of her childhood. I had no idea what she was saying, but I hung on every word.

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At some point, my mother walked into the room. And at that exact moment, Bubbie returned to her dementia, to her faraway place, to the prison that was her frail body and the nervous system that would simply not cooperate to speak the words that her soul wanted to say. I still had the spoonful of Jell-O in my hand.

I never had the chance to feed her.

Of course, I promptly reported this experience to my mother who looked at me with some combination of shock, disbelief, and hope. She wanted to hear the story over and over again, so I told it. Bubbie hadn’t spoken a word in four years, she hadn’t focused her eyes in all that time, and we had forgotten so much of this beautiful matriarch that we once knew. She never spoke again. She died months later.

On one level, our nutritional journey is a very simple one: you’re born, you eat, you die. In between all of that is hopefully a life well lived. I think if my grandmother could feed the world, she would. Oftentimes, our greatest heroes aren’t those who fight the wars, or make the fortunes, or hit the home run. Our greatest heroes aren’t the famous people in the movies or the ones that sing the songs on the radio. Sometimes, our greatest heroes are the ones who nourished us. The ones who loved us without conditions. The ones who fed us with all of their hearts.

If only we could take just a little piece of that love, and put it into our kitchens, share it with our family and friends, plant it on our farms, sneak it into our factories, or put it into our nutrition books. The world would instantly be a better place. We’d be more healthy and joyful. And I know my Bubbie, wherever she is, would smile.

What are some of your most heart-nourishing meals or experiences?

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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  • LiZa Bliss

    Loving Grandma’s are an archetype, no matter their ethnic background, I believe. Food is love is their motto and many of us have spent time trying to undo this instead of embracing it. Of course we are the fortunate ones who’s Grandma’s provided wholesome food as love.

    Thank you, Marc, again you have made my day.

    In love and light,

    LiZa

    • Hi LiZa,
      Indeed – they can be some of the most precious, special influences.
      Love is healing.

      Marc

  • Deborah Penner

    Love well …. With all of your being …. I love your passion for true and deep nourishment … I have have the joy and pain of caring for many Bubbies locked in their minds at the end of their life … I love that she came out and talked to you when your momma left the room!! Wow!!!

    • Hi Deborah,
      Thank you for all the work you’re doing in the world to help those loved or forgotten bubbies.
      And, yes – it was a powerful experience to have her come to clarity in that moment.
      Thanks for joining in and sharing here!

      Marc

  • Charlene

    This is such a touching and loving story…i think i fell in love with it at the first setence, because when my sister had my parents first grandchild, her Jewish girlfriend gave my mother the name Bubba for her grands to call her..(we are black americans mind you..) What a bond yu and your Bubbie must have had for her to speak to you and noone else..that is too sweet!! Perhaps your mom thought that Bubbie might choke if you were to feed her and she didnt want to put that on you..Sweet story!! Thanks for sharing..

    • Charlene,
      Love hearing about your Bubba –
      Thanks for the empathy around the Jell-O 🙂

      Best,
      Marc

  • Jackie

    Beautiful story told, many lesson here within.

  • I love this story, Marc. Thank you for telling it. There is nothing like a grandma (or grandpa’s love) and surely it’s in the food they make. There is so much more to say- thanks for your great work.

    • Hi Holly –
      Glad you enjoyed it.
      Thanks for taking the time to tell me so 😉

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • marc, that is quite a story. it is clearly obvious that you are speaking her wisdom in all of your loving work. that’s why your writings and message are meshuga brilliant. here is to all the bubbas who nourished from the heart ,soul and kitchen.

    • Elyn –
      Thanks for the meshuga!
      Brought a smile to my face –

      Marc

  • Rucelin

    Thanks for sharing this story Marc….yes, I do believe that LOVE is indeed the most important ingredient in everything we do – when we put love in whatever we do, it brings an amazing transformation in every action we do. Our emotions can definitely affect everything.
    Just thought I’d share this: I love to cook, but being a busy mom/housewife (and a part time student too!), I still try and spend time making nourishing meals for my family. When I prepare meal, I always try and say this phrase: “I’m putting lots and lots of love on this meal…and this is my act of love for my family…” It’s really amazing how our emotions could have an impact on our actions and its results.

    So, thanks again Marc for sharing that beautiful story about you grandma…grandmothers are special!

    • Hi Rucelin,
      Love to hear you’re putting so much intention into what you’re feeding your family.
      Love is the most powerful medicine.
      Thanks for joining the conversation here.

      Warm Regards,
      Marc

  • Thank you David for bringing tears to my eyes with your heartwarming story of your Sweet Bubbie.

    In my world, Bubbie was my sweet mother, we lived in Brooklyn, and she too, lived to feed the world. I have to disagree with you because, my mother made the best chicken soup in the world. 😉 She spoke all the same languages as your Bubbie, and her hearing aid whistled, too.

    My mother did not have Alzheimer’s, but dementia. She was confused much of the time, but sometimes she had moments of great clarity. At one point, she suddenly became really sad, and poclaimed,”Oh how i wish i could peel a potato again!” She lived and loved to cook and you could taste it in every mouthful.

    At the end if her life, I did cook for her and feed her, and was able to return the loving care that I had once received from her. It’s the circle of life.

    Thank you for evoking those bittersweet memories of our sweet Bubbies, our Yiddisha Mommas. May they rest in peace, in the knowledge that they succeeded in fulfilling their purpose here are earth.

    • Hi Jean –
      I think we’re all lucky to have been fed the best Chicken Soup ever 😉
      What a wonderful confluence between our two stories.
      Thank you for sharing your Bubbie too.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Lisa

    Your letter about your Bubbie and brings back my own memories of my Jewish grandparents in
    Virginia and food. We would visit every Sunday and start off with brunch. My grandfather, father and I would make our own versions of our bagel, egg, cream cheese, and smoked salmon sandwich. We would make our own combinations and compare. We would laugh and discuss
    Whether to put the egg or the salmon next to the cream cheese. We would argue our own points
    Of why one ingredient is better next to another in our own, sometimes large, bagel sandwich.
    Later, an early dinner would be brisket which was deliciously prepared by my grandmother.
    And my grandfather loved the fat off of all meat, he would just chew away. He died at age 97.
    Your message reminded me about my own grandparents and that I miss those times. And I miss them. That was the juice, the best part of my childhood.

    • Hi Lisa,
      There are so many great memories and wisdom that have been passed down to us from our elders and loved ones. Thanks for sharing your story!

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • This is touching but why were you feeding her Jello? That’s just sugar and artificial colors and flavors. My mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s lived a healthy 9 years with the disease. We brought her and bought her every kind of healthy item we could think of.

    The attendants often told us she had the BEST appetite of anyone there. I negotiated with the doctors to allow her multi-vitamins given to her daily (as if by their prescription) and we spent a lot of time educating staff as to healthier behaviors.

    My dream for future assisted living and nursing home facilities, is that they serve BETTER food (perhaps arrangements with local farmers (who are sure to be willing), safer cleaning products with less harmful chemical ingredients, etc. Yoga is already offered these days as well as some Tai Chi. Why NOT?

    • All the food at her facility was poor quality hospital food. And this was in the 1970s when good nutrition was still in the very beginning stages. So, I love your idea for real high quality food at nursing home facilities – so needed!

      Best regards,

      Marc David

  • What an inspiring story. To just live and be in our place in the world – no knowing needed. Though at the end it was a challenge for her to just “be”. I would have liked to tell her that she has permission to just be inside herself, to be with just herself, and accept nourishment from her family, and to rest.
    I write is little column in a community newspaper – it’s title is “Nourish”.

    • Hi Annette

      Thanks for being a part of the conversation here.

      My warmest regards,

      Marc

  • Thank you for this story, Marc. It moved me deeply.

    I had a grandmother who was my angel, my family peace-maker, and my primary caregiver. Her example and influence shaped how I now live, what I believe, and what I do in my work. She embodied unconditional love and infinite patience and taught me what that could look like. She fed me with southern cooking, intellectual curiousity, artistic appreciation, gentle humor, ethical resolve, and most of all, love.

    That is true nourishment!

    I wish I had been able to care for her with her the knowledge, patience and skills I now have so that her last years could have been easier.

    Sharing deep gratitude for our wise, generous and loving grandmothers and their legacies living through us.

    • Hi April,

      What a powerful woman you had in your life – true nourishment indeed.
      Thank you for sharing a little of her with us!

      Best,
      Marc

  • What a great so heartfelt…it reminds me of a funny story growing up, My grandmother had polio as a child which left her a bit slower in reflexes and movement. My sister and i spent most weekends with my grandparents in Brooklyn. Every morning my grandmother would make Farina,, due to the fact that she never stirred it fast enough it would create lumps…long story short my sister and I grew up thinking that hot cereal was lumpy. One day my mother had to take my grandmother to the Dr and my father made us breakfast…big disaster! yuck we said! It’s not like grandma’s it has no lumps My father almost fell off his chair laughing, “he said it’s not suppose to”. Well you can’t argue with children who adore their grandma and would do anything to defend her reputation as a cook.

    • What a great story! I think we all have a sacred bias to the cooking of our Bubbies.
      Thank you for sharing.

      Best,
      Marc

  • Jean Davis

    This is encouraging to me since I am a grandmother. My hope is that my children/grandchildren will remember me for family meals, laughter, and unconditional love. A little over two years ago my husband began experiencing chest pain, so I started cooking a whole-foods plant-based fare at his request. We gave up our chicken, pork, nightly ice cream. At one time my grandkids might have remembered me for the pralines and chocolate cake and peach cobbler. Now I’m known for my kale salad recipe. Even the grandchild who didn’t think she wanted to try kale now makes it regularly to take for her lunch. My husband, by the way, had no more chest pains after about three weeks into the diet. I am so grateful.

    • Hi Jean —

      The love will taste just as good in the peach cobbler as it will in the kale.
      It’s their time with you and seeing you put good-hearted intentions into their bellies is so important.
      So glad to hear your husband’s health is improved!

      Best Wishes,
      Marc

  • marianne Sciberras

    This made me cry..so beautiful! Thank you!!

    • Marianne –

      Thank you for reaching out to let me know you were so moved.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Erin Moore

    Thank you for the great story. I grew up on home grown food, and am continuing the tradition by teaching my daughters how to garden. Every year we seem to always get one good sized potato shaped like a heart, they squeal with glee that dinner in going to be made with love. Last year our potato harvest was more than what we needed, so we loaded up the extra’s and took them to our locale food bank. I believe it is important to teach the joy of planting, growing, harvesting and sharing. Thank you again.
    cheers & peace

    • Hello Erin,
      So glad to hear you’re passing on such useful skills to your daughters! What a great example you’re giving them about helping take care of others.

      Thanks for sharing,
      Marc

  • Can I tell you, Marc, this is the most beautiful story I’ve read in a very long time. What a great gift your Bubbie gave you. And again, thank God, for the rest of us. And you have given me a great gift today to reflect on my gramma. It’s so funny when I started reading this about the delicious food your Bubbie prepared I laughed cause you didn’t go to my gramma’s for the home cooked meals, you went for the valuable time to share with her. My grandmother’s menu included fried bologna, chicken legs, strawberries with sugar for dipping, English muffins pizzas and her famous dessert of Jell-o and cool whip. she was my gift — she loved me for me — no judgment. sometimes some loving advice, but never criticism. Our grandparents are members of the village who raised us and we are truly blessed to have had two of God’s finest.

    • Dear Nancy,
      I firmly believe that love comes in fried bologna too. It’s about the hands and heart that prepare our foods for us. It’s powerful medicine. Thank you for sharing with us today!

      Kindly,
      Marc David

  • Beautiful post. This reminds me of my grandma and how she puts all her love in her baking. It’s really her way of showing that she appreciates us and you can taste it in every bite. 🙂

    • Hi Anne-Sophie,
      Thanks you for sharing about your grandma. There’s such power in our elders. We’re lucky to have them in our lives…

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Cookie

    Dear Marc,

    So much to say, yet, this is not the forum I can share. But I do extend out that I come from the same place that you come from, literally.. Brooklyn, NY. I have a Bubbie, she is my mother as I did not know my “real Bubbie”, my mother is my Bubbie. That is her name! I mean it. As my parents were quite a bit older then me, everyone thought they were my grandparents. My mother, became a Bubbie in 1983 and my father, became a Poppa. Since then, that is the name they were known by and to this day, all my friends, my siblings friends, my nieces, nephews, etc.. everyone, just calls my mother, Bubbie. She is everyone’s Bubbie. She has more “grandchildren” then she every imagined, as who doesn’t want and need a Bubbie? (I call her The BUB). She speaks Yiddish, which is very comforting to me and I speak some myself. A beautiful expressive language that is, unfortunately not used or understood much today. Now, the dilemma, Bubbie became a “grand-bubbie” is April of this year and so now, what do we call her, because my sister is now a “Bubbie” too! (we should all have such problems {said with a Brooklyn accent}).
    However, you are correct.. a Bubbie is much more then a name or a word, it defines who a person is and what they bring to the family and the community. My mother is the true definition of a Bubbie. My brother even wrote and preforms a song just for her “Mama, let’s not talk about food”! A Bubbie is about nourishment, love (the unconditional kind) and has the innate ability to bring people together and give meaning to the words “Cooked with Love”. I learned from her, all about food, Kosher food (no Jello in our house) and about cooking with and for love and how eating alone is, well, sad.
    To earn the honorable title of Bubbie, take much more then having grand children, it comes from growing up in that generation where it is part of one’s DNA and upbringing.
    I have not told my sibling, but she has not earned the title of Bubbie, nor does she embrace the “meaning”, as it;s not who she is. There will have to be another title generated for this new generation of Jewish grandmothers, especially since food is best served up with some Yiddish expression and an accent like “It;s just not my best”, when in fact, that Chicken Soup can cure the world of every pain that exists!
    Somehow, with all this “food and love”, I still ended up with “food issues” which is how I found your site!
    I offer to you, as the door is always open, if you need some love from a “real Bubbie” you can come visit mine as she will gladly welcome you into her home, ask you 10 times what youw ant to eat and make you the best meal ever, all while telling you story after story about the old days when… the world was a different place and people actually sat down together to eat and share and love (and no cell phones were present).
    Cookie

    • Hi Cookie –
      Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this incredible story of you’re the BUB.
      Astounding truths here – and I love you’re brother’s song title: “Mama, let’s not talk about food”! Quite a feat for most Bubbie’s I think.
      Thank you as well for the open door. The world is changing so quickly, I agree. It’s a blessing to know I’m welcome at your table.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Jo Ann

    This treasure you wrote softly brought me back to time spent with my Muddy (My older sister, at two years old, could only say Muddy for grandmother and it stuck). I felt and remembered all of the loving times I had with her. The intoxicating aromas of her house, her kitchen, and her love just filled me with happiness. I was in the peace of being 10 years old again, glowing and growing in the unconditional love of my Muddy. We don’t talk about grandmothers enough. We don’t talk about love enough. Thank you so much for the amazing present you gave me today. I will spend more time remembering and feeling Muddy’s love. I am so grateful it lives on in me. I know that our world could surely use it.

    • Hi Jo Ann,
      Good points you’re making here: we don’t talk about grandmother’s, elders or love enough in general. Such a wasted opportunity to access wisdom and community. Thanks for sharing your Muddy with us.

      Always a pleasure to see you here,
      Marc

  • Beth Mincher

    I love this post. My “grannie” would sit at the table and eat until all the food was finished and say, “we can’t let this good food go to waste now”. And she always had a snickers bar tucked away in her bedroom dresser drawer. She loved her food & her life and taught me many lessons about pure enjoyment, delight and gratitude. What a lesson to learn from our elders, and a joy in our life if we could just embrace a but more of their purity and passion for the simple, real things. I love you, Gran! And Cheers to Bubbie as well! I look forward to wisdom with age.

    • Hi Beth,
      Thanks for sharing about your Grandmother – sounds like she was a lady who understood the role of pleasure when we’re nourishing ourselves. I hope we can all lean more into this relaxed joy in life as we mature. I heard somewhere that the goal of age is to become more open, more heart-driven. Sounds good to me.

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Leslie Marlowe

    Hi Marc,
    “Sometimes, our greatest heroes are the ones who nourished us. The ones who loved us without conditions. The ones who fed us with all of their hearts.”

    What precious memories you have of your Bubbie and how much she nourished you and your family. I am sorry she had a difficult time in her later years. I know you must miss her very much. Thank you for sharing this. I wanted to take this nice opportunity to share back that I too had a precious Russian-Jewish Gramma who spoke Russian, French and a bit of Turkish. She rose early nearly every morning and began her day cooking and baking. One of my fondest memories around her delicious cooking was when she taught me, at about age 9 or 10 the art of making her famous piroshski! Her piroshki was heavenly and she’d make 2 different kinds, a sweet one filled with fruit and nuts and one with meat, onion and egg, which was my favorite. Of course, no one has ever been able to duplicate it. Gramma would also sing while she cooked, and I’d wake up to wafting aromas and her beautiful singing voice, followed by a loving hug and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. It doesn’t get any better than that, I feel! She was all heart bestowed with a great psychological and philosophical mind. She meant everything to me. What you say is so true for me…The one who fed us with all of her heart will always be my biggest hero.

  • Hi Leslie,

    Thanks for taking the time to reach out and sharing your Gramma with us.
    What a lovely and incredible woman she must have been.

    We are so lucky to have had women like this in our lives!

    Warmly,
    Marc David

  • I walked to the library one time with my sister one November day. My other sister came riding up on her bike, having been on her way back from a play date. She decided to come to the library with the two of us, and we would get books. Between us, we had a stack of books maybe six inches high. Walking home, the weather got rough. We’d agreed to take turns walking the bike and carrying the books, but somehow my sisters wanted to run ahead and they left me with the bike and the books. I couldn’t manage both. It got windy and stormy. By the time I got home, it was dinnertime. My parents asked me why I was so late. I’d come in crying and said I had to carry both the bikes and the books. My dad took my sisters into the other room and gave them heck. Mom had made soup and bread for dinner, and that was the best soup I ever ate. It was warm and comforting, and I was almost glad I’d been so cold, so I could appreciate the soup.

    • Thank you for sharing this wonderful and memorable story, Lisa! I can see why you appreciated that soup so much. 🙂 Warmly, Marc

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.