Many of us agree that eating is one of life’s pleasures. Sitting down to a delicious meal with cherished friends or family is as about as life-affirming as it gets but when it comes to the crunch, food means many things in life apart from mere sustenance.
This month’s column is really just a brainstorm of all the ways in which food penetrates almost every aspect of our daily lives. A lot of the time food is a positive force, but it also has a dark side and can most certainly mean different things to different people.
Food brings people together – to the extent that it is often the glue that holds not just families, but even entire societies together. Even those at war with each other have been known to put down their weapons in exchange for eating utensils and shared a meal together. Even if conflict resumes, it’s still always a step in the right direction.Food defines cultural identity and nationality. When we think of a country, often the first association we make is with the local cuisine. Italy – pizza, Japan – sushi, United Kingdom – fish and chips, Germany – sauerkraut. The list of national dishes is as long as there are countries, and also regions, in the world.Food comforts us when we’re down – we all have our cherished examples of ‘comfort food’ that help us smile again when life is getting us down. Some foods even contain properties that release those feel-good chemicals in our brains – the most obvious, of course, is chocolate, which contains phenyl ethylamine, the same chemical that is released when we fall in love.
Food is also intrinsically linked to our memories. Just the aroma of something cooking can take us right back to childhood and can invoke a powerful memory of a long-forgotten dining experience.
Food can be utterly simple – cheese on toast, macaroni and cheese, or bacon and eggs. Or it can be extraordinarily complex – as those guys such as Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adria have showed us with their lab, rather than kitchen, generated molecular gastronomy.
Food is our fuel. It gives our bodies the energy they need to get through the day, whether it’s an average day of running around, or perhaps a triathlon – in which case the nutritional components and volume of food must be precisely measured in order to maintain stamina throughout such a gruelling physical challenge.
Food, as well as being a friend, can also be an enemy. For those of us with severe food allergies, it can even be deadly. Ditto when it comes to heart disease and diabetes.
Food can cause us discomfort in the form of indigestion, and even embarrassment in the form of flatulence (blame it on the dog, I say), or there’s always the classic spinach stuck between teeth scenario … we’ve all been there.
Food creates enjoyment, but in enjoyment it also fosters addiction. It can become a powerful emotional crutch and in turn, lead us down the path towards the dark side discussed above in the form of obesity and its related maladies.
Food usually starts with hunger, although its consumption is often triggered by boredom, and sometime addiction, as discussed above. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world hunger is not at all easy to satisfy, and the appearance of food only means one thing – survival.
Food is abundant and plentiful, or it is frighteningly scarce.
Food can be sourced from down the road, or it can come from the other side of the world.
Whatever food means to you, take it with a grain of salt (or maybe not).
But be sure to share it with loved ones, create it, go out for it, explore it, season it, take it away, or have it here.
Most of all, appreciate it and respect it.
This story was published in issue 79 Greater Port Macquarie Focus