Exponent II Call for Submissions: Mormon Women and Food

The following essay is by Pandora. 

We were two months married and it was a special night. My husband’s parents were coming to our place for the first time and I had cooked dinner. My cooking dinner was actually more momentous than the visit, I am rarely in charge of food, then or now. After a first date where my husband packed a picnic of perfectly seasoned pheasant and a second date where I burned shake ‘n bake chicken, we decided early that I would find other contributions to the relationship. But I was determined to share the one thing I could make and make spectacularly. I had spent most of the day preparing lasagna and my mother’s spaghetti sauce. It was in my blood, it was my blood, thick red, savory and delicious.

Our table was set elaborately with just washed wedding china. We seated his parents with a flourish, serving a large square of lasagna on each plate and then with much ceremony, placed the large bowl of spaghetti sauce in the center of the table. Then for one fateful moment, I turned, distracted by bread or salad, and my mother-in-law, in her typical no-fuss way, went to the refrigerator, pulled out a bottle of catsup, sat back down and poured a dollop on her lasagna.

I stared in speechless disbelief. A magic marker mustache on the Mona Lisa! A mud splatter on a white silk dress! A swear word in the chapel! This was sacrilege. Oh, why did I turn my head? How could such a thing happen on my watch? My husband, recognizing disaster, began speaking quickly to his mom for my benefit. “Mom, this isn’t like our lasagna. This is real Italian lasagna. You don’t need catsup. It has sauce.”

And the sauce was more than sauce. It was my mother’s sauce. It was the meal we yearned for, haunting the kitchen as it cooked all day, sneaking tastes, and getting chased away with a wooden spoon. Obligatory pasta floated in a sea of sauce, the ladle dipping over and over as kids spooned it up on its own or scooped it with bread. It was my mother’s masterwork, her best thing, her voice. She was a small town second generation girl dragged around the country by an ambitious husband. Her sauce was home. For her, for us. We praised her for it and she preened. Yes, it was the family recipe but she had perfected it. It was her family’s and hers, connected yet even better.

For my 16th birthday, she made me my own pot of sauce. When I came home from school it was on the stove with a bow on the lid. No one else could eat it, just me. I interviewed my mother and grandmother relentlessly for years on how to make it, but nothing was written down, it was intuition and what was on hand. I interrogated terms like a pinch, a sprinkle, “enough to make it taste good,” writing notes on yellow pads of paper, iterating the “measurements” each time I observed the mysterious process.

Over the years I gathered enough clues, practiced on my own, and finally it tasted close. And thanks to my husband’s talents, the lasagna was even better, with different cheeses and meat combinations. But the sauce was my mother’s, my family’s, mine.

And my mother-in-law added catsup.

Now we tease and laugh about this dinner. But I have not forgotten that feeling of shock. The realization that food is sometimes much more than food. It can be your whole identity compressed in a large bowl and a waiting ladle.

What does food mean to you – as Mormon, as a woman, as a spiritual being, as a physical being? The summer issue of Exponent II will feature the theme of food. Have you had meals that have taken on a different, more transcendent meaning? Is there a food that resonates so closely with an experience that the memory becomes merged? What food has become imbued with spiritual intent – bread and water, but also pomegranates or other food that can take on religious/mythical meaning within context? What is our relationship to our body and food? Adam and Eve partook of all the fruits with joy, but historically to deny oneself food is to be holy. In notions of self-control, does food become a carnal influence? And what is up with Mormons and food storage? Are we really going to eat all that wheat?

Please share essays between 700 and 2400 words. Please submit to exponentiieditor AT gmail DOT com. The deadline for submission is April 6, 2018.


  1. I love this! My mother-in-law tells almost the same story about my father-in-law’s first visit to the family home in Arizona, pouring ketchup on his tacos while his girlfriend’s mother looked aghast.

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