I know I haven't been sharing many recipes lately. I have been on somewhat of a creative dry spell. However, I didn't create The Essential Rhubarb Pie just to share recipes, but to share all of my thoughts about food and cooking. Today I am going to discuss something that's been on my mind for a while.
Three years ago, when I started out the Lean Eating program (refer to my other blog for details) my teammates and I were musing on the message boards about how much, and in what ways, we would be restricting our eating. Many of us agreed that we loved to eat. We really loved it. We enjoyed delicious food. How much would we have to curtail such a pleasure in order to lose weight?
The discussions brought down a virtual handslap from the coaches and mentors. The message was clear. If we loved to eat, it was indicative of deep-seated emotional issues. We were medicating our psychological issues with food. It was impossible, according to the coaching team, to like food just for food itself. Enjoying the act of eating had to be indicative of greater issues.
"Food is not love," the health experts love to say. "Food is fuel. Food is what you use to power up your daily activities." You are not allowed to be emotionally attached to eating.
Do you know what I find strange? Every day we allow ourselves all sorts of sensory pleasures. We stare at works of art, climb to the tops of mountains and tall buildings to enjoy the view, and watch dancers and performers. We get massages, pet our furry animals, and have sex with our loved ones (or at least our lusted ones). We go to concerts, plug into our iPods, or simply savor the sounds of rain on the roof or ocean waves. We wear perfume, stop to smell the roses, and love the scent of a crackling fire. No one considers these acts of sensory pleasure to be indicative of some larger emotional issues. Why is the simple sensory pleasure of taste so different?
I love going to the store and planning my meals. What looks good? Is there a product I haven't tried yet that I want to try? What if I can't find everything I need for the meals I want to make? What should I substitute it with? Can I come up with recipes on the fly?
I love going to farmers' markets and seeing the beautiful visual displays of fresh produce. I love the fresh smells of all of those fruits and vegetables. I especially love them in the summer when they are bursting with so many different varieties of everything edible.
I love trying new restaurants. I love trying new ethnic foods. I love to see how professional chefs will transform ingredients. It doesn't matter if the restaurant is a five-star gastronomic paradise or a greasy spoon diner. I want to experience all the ways someone else can cook for me.
I am not a very artsy or crafty person. I don't knit, crochet, or sew. I don't draw or paint. I don't build decorative objects out of wood or mold them from clay. Cooking is one of the few ways I can successfully create. I love taking raw ingredients and putting them together into a meal. I find inspiration anywhere. Sometimes a random ingredient will pop into my head and I'll decide I want to cook it. Sometimes I'll read a passage in a book about a particular food and decide I want to cook it. I see recipes online and on TV that I want to cook or adapt. I never stop wanting to create meals and recipes. The best part of this type of craft is that I can enjoy it by eating it. After it nourishes my soul, it nourishes my body.
What means the most to me is cooking is easy to share with other people. The best part of cooking is that is can easily be shared.
I truly believe the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. There is a reason why Ina Garten's roast chicken recipe is nicknamed "engagement chicken". I have won over more than one potential romance with brownies. I was on an internet forum years ago where one of the female members recounted the chicken dinner she made the night before and one of the men on the forum said reading that post was a huge turn on (there was nothing sexual in the post). When you cook for a partner you give him a sensory pleasure and also show you are willing to put some effort into caring for him. (Men, this works in reverse as well.)
Throughout the course of human history, families have gathered around food. All cultures around the world have holidays with foods specific to each one and the memories surrounding these foods are as important as the people we share them with. Throughout history food is how family and friends connect. We share meals together and as we share food, we share so much more.
The Diet Police will tell us that families need to find new activities to do other than eat. We should all start healthy new traditions. How exactly do you do that? How do you get multiple family members, with various temperaments, in different generations, to all enjoy the same activity? Eating is one thing everyone in the family can agree on. Eating is an act of intimacy. When we share a meal, we are all eating the same things (or at least some of the same things). These foods touch every part of our bodies. They eventually become part of us. I know when I cook a meal for the people I love, they will always have a part of me with them. Eating is one of the essential components of life itself. Why not make a celebration of that life?
Food will not cure depression. It will not permanently alleviate sadness (although I will argue it can provide some excellent temporary cheer). It is not a replacement for human companionship. Food will not fill the empty spaces in your life (unless we're talking about your hungry stomach).
But I will say that food is love. Embrace your love for food. See all the ways that food can love you back.