The act of eating is instinct at its finest. Infants root for milk at the breast within minutes of birth, without any true concept of where they are, how to communicate, or the ability to move themselves from one place to another. The drive for nourishment is a common thread among all humans. We’ve evolved multiple mechanisms that drive us to eat, and for most of human history the search for sustenance filled most of our waking hours. Even in modern day, our lives, relationships, societies are built around the regular and daily need for food.
At its core, food is some combination of animal and plant materials containing chemical compounds necessary for the proper function of the human body, prepared in a way that makes these compounds available for human use while decreasing the risk of food-borne illness. Food is truly so much more than this. The act of eating is so often pleasurable, either because of the social fulfillment from eating in groups, or as simply as the sensory excitement of the sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami notes hitting our tongues. Cooking techniques developed to further increase our enjoyment of eating and variety of flavours and textures to be experienced. Why else would we have developed more than half a dozen ways to cook an egg? Food itself was historically a measure of a society: enough food meant there would be another generation to come. With a history of scarcity, we began to celebrate an abundance of nourishment, and subsequently our achievements and important moments, with our prized possession. Food tells the story of who we are and where we came from. Food becomes a part of us, literally and figuratively.
Food is so much more than the sum of its parts. For all the wonderful things that it is, one thing food is not is a friend. It is not animate (anymore, except in a few instances), it doesn’t care about us. It can fill a physical void, but will never fill an emotional one. Food is not a saviour, it is not magic. Nutritious food will most likely make you feel better but there’s no guarantee it will prevent all illness. Food can be used to manage health conditions, but it is not a miraculous cure.
Our battles with food often stem from us wanting it to be what it is not. Advertising and marketing cloud our judgement, warp our expectations, and make it next to impossible to see food for what it is. Let us appreciate and celebrate all the things that food is – nourishment, energy, history, culture, togetherness – and lessen our strife over making food what it never was.
To food, our delicious companion that makes our time on this earth possible.