The meaning of food

hiccupWhen you come to think of it, our relationship with food is complex. It is essential for life but it is so much more than that. It is tied into our emotions. We don’t just eat when we are hungry. We eat when we are bored, stressed, unhappy, to gain some control over our life, as a reward for being so good, for pleasure, to fill an emptiness inside, to regulate our temperature when we are cold or too hot, to bond with others, to express our love, the reasons seem endless. I have noticed at the hospital, when it comes to palliative patients, food is often the last pleasure and choice they have. If they have swallowing difficulties, the patient will frequently chose eating/drinking what they desire, over any risks of doing so even if it might hasten their death.

Eating involves so much more than taste. All senses seem to be hit, from the texture and temperature of food in your mouth, the aroma which creates an anticipation, the overall look and how food sounds when you chew. I can’t think of too many activities we do on a daily basis that stimulate all these senses. If you take one sense out ie your sense of smell it can completely change how you feel about eating from being pleasurable to losing your appetite.

We have unusual habits around food. I have four strange habits that I know of:

1) I have an urge to finish everything that is on the plate, even if I’m full half way through.
2) I have a rule that a night time meal is not a meal without a dessert at the end (which is often ice cream)
3) I love colour when it comes to vegetables and salads.  I have a tendency to overfill plates with a variety of vegetables or salads in order to soothe my need for colour.
4) I am not happy with just one chocolate or one chip. If I know it is the kitchen cupboard or fridge, my willpower is weak. There has been many a time I have woken with that familiar dry dehydrated mouth which is from engulfing a whole large packet of salt and finger chips the night before.

It is funny, I know the origin of these bad habits from childhood but this doesn’t make it any easier to overcome them. I have been working hard to resist number one and four habits but number two that is a seriously challenging one because I LOVE LOVE LOVE icecream and I associate dessert with being my treat for the day. I can remember as a kid despising green beans and being made to sit at the table by my parents until I ate them all or there would be no dessert for me. I can’t recall ever giving up the chance to eat dessert. I would find anyway I could to get rid of those pesky green beans even if it meant hiding them when no one was watching.

Isn’t it funny how particular foods can make you reminisce about the past. Ice cream cake always makes me think of my birthday as a kid. White peppermints reminds me of my Grandpa, those pink, vanilla and chocolate wafer biscuits brings up memories of Sunday afternoon tea at Grandma’s house.

As well as triggering memories, along with food comes strong family and cultural traditions especially when it comes to celebratory holidays. A regular appearance on Christmas day is my sister’s potato dish, roast pork with crackle and for dessert Mum’s Trifle with vanilla ice cream. I have my own traditions around Christmas lunch. For as long as I can remember every Christmas Eve, I am normally cooking late into the evening because I am trying out new recipes. There has quite a few disasters but the tradition is strong in me and I do it again the next year.

There is a close connection between food and place. When your away from home and feeling a little homesick it is often the food you miss first whether it is the favourite dish you order from  your local restaurant or the chance to cook at home some comfort food in a kitchen you know well.

With so much meaning behind food it’s no wonder that so many diets fail. Having an addiction around eating must be one of the hardest habits to beat. Everywhere you look there are reminders. Even in conversation it is not long before it is steered in the direction of food. Next time when your in a conversation take notice whether food is mentioned and how often. It might surprise you.

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