Whether we realise it or not, food serves many a purpose in life. At its most basic form, food serves as fuel for our bodies. Whether we fuel ourselves with healthy food to nourish us, or processed junk to fill a void, food links back heavily with our emotional core.
When one looks back on history, food was traditionally used to bring people together. Cultures that still practice this form of social bonding experience, such as the Italians and French, have a vastly different approach to food and eating than those adapted to the Westernised diet. The huge success of the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, by author Mireille Guiliano, is testament to the fact that when approached properly, food, and delicious food at that, can indeed be eaten (in moderation) without weight gain as a result.
What has happened where we have become so disconnected from food and eating that we resort to pre-packaged, ready-made meals for one? Our purchases are influenced by labels that read “low fat” and “lite” or use a complicated points system. We no longer take pleasure in sourcing our own food and cooking for our friends and loved ones. Food is now all about convenience, taste and dollar. Meals these days are specifically designed to be eaten anywhere and on the run. They come packaged in microwaveable form – in perfect “serving sizes”, with minimal effort required on the part of the eater. “Heat and eat” is the perfect motto for the modern day eater. This is a very sore reflection of our culture that it has got to this point.
Meal time, once an occasion saved for the end of the day at the family table, is now more often than not, a solitary experience. Even in a family environment, it is increasingly common that each family member eat a different meal and at a different time to others living under the same roof.
Where did we lose our connection with food? Think back to childhood and the memories that certain foods evoke. The smell of a home cooked lasagne can immediately transport you back to less troubled times. Mum’s chicken soup can bring back memories not only of younger days, but times when food was the tie that bound mother and child, perhaps over sickness, or just over the simple act of family and love.
Food is highly emotive and can have profound effect on the senses, given certain contexts. The sweet smell of berries or tomatoes can remind us of happy, care free summer days. The texture of figs perhaps makes us recall times where we picked too many from a family member’s tree and paid the price afterwards we had gorged. The sweet taste of jam can bring up thoughts of fresh scones out of our grandmother’s oven which were quickly smothered in butter and home made jam and devoured feverishly on a Saturday afternoon. Food used to mean family, connection, love and nourishment. What does it mean today?
At their core, meals are, and should still be, an experience. Restaurants caught on to this long ago and now strive to recreate these experiences with each food offering. Hearty, authentic Italian fare, for example, brings people together and provides an environment in which the food is to be indulged in and appreciated – not gorged on in the car on the way to work. But why outsource these experiences to restaurants when they can just as easily be conducted in the comfort of your own home?
The message here? Stripping cooking and our relationship to food back to basics is one of the most simple acts of love. Slow down your food consumption, look at what is in your shopping cart and pantry cupboards, and start from scratch. Pare back your eating habits and think about what goes on your plate and where it comes from. Appreciate that local grass fed meat. Let the taste of the local tomatoes linger on your tongue as you eat them individually. Prepare a meal for your family and take pleasure in watching them enjoy each bite.
Use food as your modern medicine, to nourish and provide, rather than stuff a hole in your life or to “fix” your mental health. Change your emotional connection to food and appreciate its simplicity. When you do this, watch the shift in both your body and mind, and pay that positivity forward. The more we connect back to our roots and the less complicated we make food, the better. We once again become hunters, gathers and providers. Eating shouldn’t be difficult, so don’t make it so.