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Food as comfort: N.J. bill would end ban on refreshments at funeral homes

Would you like a coffee to go with your peppermint? Mourners in New Jersey will finally be able to enjoy food and other refreshments from the comfort of their local funeral homes. For decades, New Jersey funeral homes have been legally prevented from serving food and drink in funeral establishments. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D., Middlesex), the pending legislation will lift the ban and leave Pennsylvania as the only state prohibiting refreshments in funeral homes.

The purpose behind the bill is to provide additional comfort to mourners attending viewings, wakes, or funerals at a funeral home. As the deputy director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, Adam Guziejewski fully backs the legislation. Apparently, many funeral organizers and mourners in New Jersey have requested food or drink at such events, and Guziejewski has previously had to turn them away.

The law banning hors d’oeuvre in funeral homes in New Jersey was presumably enacted to protect the public health and keep food away from embalmed bodies. But the coming change signifies a move away from seeing bodies as unclean. In keeping with increasingly modern views on death, New Jersey mourners and the legislature need not fear cross-contamination between a dead body and any foodstuffs. Since 48 other states have enacted laws that allow food in funeral homes, New Jersey’s law should not cause any huge problems for funeral directors and mourners alike.

New Jersey, although late to the party, is not in bad company. New York and Massachusetts recently lifted bans disallowing food in funeral homes. In many funeral homes throughout the country, receptions or wakes are held in separate rooms from both the viewing room and the embalming room. New York's old-school opponents to serving food in funeral homes fear crumbs, losing business to event spaces, and lack of dignity for the dead. However, in other cultures, food is an integral part of providing comfort and feeding crowds of mourners. At the end of the day, New Jersey is overturning a ban that was perpetuated by naysayers. In practice, fears of crumbs and contamination of food by bodies are just that: fears.

Amelia Lowe


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