Food… Good… Mood… Similar-looking words which separately mean different things but together make perfect sense…
The more I savour good food prepared for me or delicious dishes I’ve cooked myself, I realize that enjoying food – really enjoying it – is a far cry from gluttony (shouldn’t not taking the time to enjoy it be a sin?). In our shallow, diet-obsessed culture, we might see food as something which is as dangerous as it is integral to supporting life itself. We worry about salt, fat, carbs and even food contamination. Depending on your point of view, food is unwanted calories, fuel for an active body, a source of temporary comfort, an expression of the sacredness of life, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Traditional cultures have always recognized that eating serves more than just a mechanical function; it is a ritual which honours our deep connection to our family, our culture and Earth itself. Of course, in the modern days of industrial farming, wastefulness and rampant urbanization, we’ve lost that connection – but we can rediscover our roots (literally!) by being more mindful of what we put into our bodies and being present while we engage in this act which is so ubiquitous and yet so profound. And how we do this not only affects our survival but the quality of our life. Our relationship to food is a good signifier of our body image and self-esteem. I don’t worry if I eat something that some people might say I shouldn’t indulge in or don’t need (I’m not skinny). I don’t care. If I feel like I’m being too greedy with the yummy stuff and not getting enough fruits and veggies in my diet, I adjust – because I want to be healthy, not because I have any interest in wearing a bikini or jeggings. Taking responsibility for your diet in today’s context is all about pragmatism. Taking the time to prepare our own meals and actually sitting down to enjoy them with full attention and gratitude usually requires a certain mindset or lifestyle, but it’s more a matter of priority than anything. Healthier = cheaper. Food activists like Jamie Oliver have proven that. Let’s hope the Los Angeles Unified School District agrees with him.
Industrialized societies have quickly developed strong markets for organic and local farming, creating incentive for supermarkets and large food producers to dominate the competition. One result is that in addition to consumers who don’t think organic or fair trade certification is based on robust science (which they say isn’t enforced well enough regardless), we now have consumers who do prefer to shop organic/fair/local but are suspicious that what they’re buying isn’t what conscious consumers originally understood to mean ‘organic’ – thanks to effective lobbying which has managed to drastically degrade certification criteria.
I’m one of those people who likes to get the facts. I will research tirelessly until I feel I have a good grip on my topic of interest. But there’s no volume of studies and literature that will teach me what all humans should hold as supremely important: we need food to survive – and not just any food – nutritious, clean, whole food. Which means we need clean air, water, soil, etc. Our bodies need sufficient energy and nutrients to function properly. A frozen ‘calorie-wise’ product that’s low in carbs and fat but is full of sodium and preservatives is worth nothing to me. I’d rather eat cupcakes.
Another huge reason why I love food: even if it’s a symphonic masterpiece, its true beauty lies in its simplicity and accessibility. It’s a matrimony of art and science. Anyone who’s made caramel (or tried to make caramel apples which came out more solid than concrete), made pizza dough from scratch or grilled anything on a barbecue understands very well that successful cooking and baking hinge on the right temperature, vessels, seasonings, liquids, timing, etc… plus a lot of patience and self-confidence, as well as some tolerance for heat, unexpected turns and of course, the inevitable burns and cuts. When I watched my mom cook as a child, I had no clue that everything she was doing was based on physics and chemistry. But food also offers infinite opportunities to blend new flavours, juxtapose different textures and dress food on a plate until it looks almost too sexy to touch. Culinary experimentation and appreciation has spawned countless reality TV competitions (I love the Food Network), an explosion of hot celebrity chefs (I love Chuck Hughes) and the evolution of the urban food snob, now referred to as ‘the foodie’ (do you fit this description?).
Food is about survival, yes – but it’s also about passion, uncertainty, creativity, nature, beauty, sharing and joie de vivre – everything that makes life so delicious. Bon appetit!