Thinking about food - Pt. 1
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
This 4-letter word is so complex and multi-faceted that, honestly, I am not very comfortable discussing this topic. However, I strongly believe if we want to change our life, a paradigm shift is required with respect to food. I can go on and on about the nutritional benefits of certain kinds of food and the harm due to other kinds, but none of this would have any significant impact unless people understand their own mindset about food: about what we eat and why we eat; that is the first step towards change.
I went to an official dinner a few weeks back. Intelligent, successful people, directors and senior executives in a multi-national company. As with any other party, at one point the discussion moved to food. And people started bragging about how they are foodies, which items they love, and how they can’t live without certain kinds of delicacies. Middle-aged, overweight people, many with hypertension and other diseases, going on and on about their uncontrolled indulging in this fattening entrée or that uber-sweet dessert.
Being a spectator to this conversation, I kept thinking what an uphill battle it is to educate and guide people to make the right food choices. During my counseling, people often say, please tell us to do anything, we will do that, but please don’t ask us to stop having that brand of biscuits/milk/chocolates, etc.
So, difficult though it may be, I am going to make a sincere attempt to demonstrate that we really do need to shift our mindset about food.
FOOD AS IT CURRENTLY STANDS IN OUR LIFE
Food plays such an integral part in our lives. The sight and smell of food, even the very memory of food is enough to kindle an emotional response in us. And this goes back to the cradle of our life, from the time that our crying brought us our nourishment: from mother’s milk to feeding formulas. As we grow up, more and more foods get sub-consciously linked with various emotions in our minds. From birthday cakes to celebratory pizzas to break-up ice-cream, we grow up linking food and feelings. We drown our sorrows, have power lunches, and look for aphrodisiac food to boost our sexuality. We link coffee to energy and strawberries to sex. We use food to express, experience, and share love, lust, sadness, anger, and every emotion in-between.
Foodies, and the foods we love
Amongst us, there is a certain category of people, who label themselves as “foodies”.
The word “foodie” was coined by Ann Barr and Paul Levy in their book “The Official Foodie Handbook” in the 1980s. But what exactly does it mean? Does it have positive and/or negative connotations? Does it refer to a group of people or we all are foodies in some ways?
Some define foodies as people for whom food is art. Others view them as people who enjoy cooking, eating, reading and talking about food. Most, however, agree that modern-day foodies are people who are in love with the preparation, presentation, consumption, and discussion of food. What they do focus on is the “food experience”, a mix of emotions that they associate with a particular food. For them, food is an immersive experience and the entire act is symbolic of much more.
However, do a “foodie’s” dietary choices necessarily match his/her nutritional requirements? And if they do not, what wins out in the end? Taste or Nourishment? Can a foodie make the right turn at these crossroads of the sensory and the sensible and move ahead on the journey of health and fuller potential?
We bond over food
What’s the most common way to meet friends and acquaintances? Over coffee, drinks, dinner, lunch! And socializing is an essential and inseparable part of life. We invite friends over, prepare nice dishes for them, and together we indulge in one of life’s greatest pleasures…what better way to share and bond? Food lubricates the wheels of society; it is part of our social fabric.
“Food is the easiest way for me to connect, even with strangers!”, said someone to me recently, a clear indication of how the foodie culture creates a sense of community whose members are really passionate about the one thing that connects them, food. This bonding has become easier with social media: there are foodie celebrities on Instagram whose claim to fame is sharing pictures of food and recommending outlets. I’ve only a moderate exposure to Instagram but even I know two foodie groups on Instagram in Chandigarh alone. This bonding, this sharing creates a culture movement of sorts and food becomes another meme to experience collectively. And so, people in New York stand in lines early in the morning for a “Cinnabon”; and dates that go well end in delicious desserts as a sign of things to come.
We celebrate with food
Be it our birthdays, weddings, festivals, promotion, or just because we feel like it, food is at the core of our celebrations. And there’s an unsaid understanding, that different kinds of food items belong to different occasions. One commonality, however, is sweets. Everything needs to be celebrated with sweets.
Cake, cupcakes, ice-creams, puddings, pastries, chocolates. And don’t get me started on the types of Indian sweets, there are just too many of them (and delicious too)! In fact, we eagerly wait for our festivals, so that we can get a taste of our favorite sweets.
Food as a part of our culture
Another reason why food is so important: it is the fundamental aspect of every culture. Every country and region in the world, has its own cuisine, its own unique flavor, taste, look, and texture of food. People have adapted, depending on the local plant and animal life. These traditions are passed from one generation to next. Traditional foods are likely to be healthy and provide balanced nutrition; processed food is, comparatively, a relatively new invention. Think about any culture and see what comes to your mind? My guess is their traditional food is in the top 5, if not the top 3. At times, food is the single biggest identifier: think of Punjab and you think ‘sarson ka saag”, think of Chennai and you think “dosa”. And so it goes.
Foods that are close to the heart
How many of us have our comfort foods? I do, and I guess you do as well. Our comfort foods may be associated with our childhood, with good memories and fuzzy feelings. That way they hold personal value for us and are special. We seek our comfort food particularly at times of stress, and also when we feel tired or sick.
Some of my clearest memories of winter as a kid are of my grandma cooking “gajar ka halwa” and it is still ‘the’ taste of winter for me. Summer is still home-made ice-cream and mango panna. Rainy days scream for crisp pakoras.
Rajma is my comfort food, what’s yours?
Food as calories
Finally, food gives us the energy to go through our daily tasks. We are not thinking about this much as we live with food abundance (for most of us at least), three-meals/day is the norm, and we constantly keep feeding ourselves.
So, after writing all this, I realize, more than before, that food is not just food, it is our culture, it’s pleasure and joy and comfort, it’s how we express ourselves, connect with human beings (and connectedness is the ultimate force for happiness). Is there any point then, to try to swim against such a massive tide 😊? But I must try.
If we want to modify your lifestyle and remove suffering from our life, we would need to see “food” in a different light. A paradigm shift is needed here: Nutrition is one of the most important disciplines of LSM, and we would not be making much of the progress we talk about, without showing major compliance in this area.
So, what beliefs need to be developed? That is the topic of my next post.