Yes, I am a foodie, born and bred. More than likely, you are, too — if given permission by doctors and society. There are very few skills with which we first enter this world, wailing and protesting our removal from the all-providing womb, but we do have the ability to eat! Put a nipple near a newborn’s mouth, and he knows exactly what to do.
In fact, our mouths are one of the main ways we learn about our world in the first year of life.
Everything we notice, we want to bring to our mouths to figure out. Freud called the first 18 months of life the “oral stage,” because an infant’s pleasure centers are in the mouth. For many of us, this trait may linger long past infancy … long past, as in smoking cigarettes, sucking compulsively on popsicles, over-eating, etc.
Yet, food in our culture is more than a means of nutrition to us. While we intellectually understand the five major food groups — and have vague awareness of the need for vegetables, protein and fruits, and know to limit our fats and carbohydrates — we don’t plan our diets asking, “Have I had my five vegetables today?”
We understand being healthy has to do with what, how much and when we eat, but for the vast majority of us, food is about taste, texture, appearance and comfort: “We live to eat, not eat to live.”
Eating is basic, primal behavior. We feel good and have a sense of well-being when we eat tasty food or have just filled our bellies with a hearty meal. When it’s hot outside, we tend to want cooler, lighter fare to nourish us physically and emotionally. When the north wind blows our way, we think of soups and stews and warm foods that will keep the cold at bay. The aroma of something baking in the oven is comforting and reassuring that we will, indeed, be fed and not perish. In fact, many folks burn candles that smell of cinnamon and sugar to promote feelings of security.
Food is also a source of concern and guilt for many who struggle with their weight or who have health issues that limit their intake of a variety of foods, including those with salt, sugar or fats. I have ended many a day thinking, “I’ve been bad today. I ate too much chocolate” or “I shouldn’t have eaten those fried potatoes.”
We have an awareness, thanks to all the attention given to obesity in our society, about how important healthy eating is to a quality life, as well as its significance to the longevity of that life. Foods are often deemed “bad” or “good” according to their fat, sugar, and carbohydrate content, and so many of the foods that taste really good and please us have plenty of all those things. I think, however, that judging ourselves as “bad” or “good” because of what we ingest is not the healthiest of behaviors.
Food is, after all, a defining feature of our social lives. We use food to gather with friends and family. We socialize while dining out and celebrate major holidays with traditional menus of favorite recipes. We take food to families who are dealing with a death or illness and bring treats to those we love to show our affection. The ways we share food with others in our society is deeply rooted in our need to show caring and concern to those who are important to us.
Thus, we end with this delicious quote from The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it, and the hunger for it … and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied … and it is all one.”