So this semester I am venturing into a new space of inquiry about food. I have spent so much of my life trying to find the “absolute” truths in eating-- what is the “perfect diet”, which foods should we avoid, when should we eat… But what I've failed to realize is that food has a greater meaning beyond sustenance. There are distinct moments when food creates a larger meaning to each individual. It could be a molding of one’s culture with the preparation and digestion of food or just the memories, laughter, and love that surround each meal. Whatever I uncover, I want this paradigm to be different because I am not just unpacking all the diet fads we find at the bookstores. Instead, I want to explore our anthropological relationship with food and then distill that into how it impacts our food choices/decisions.
I want to observe cultures that have not lost sight of this duality with food. And I want to uncover the truth of food as it is lived, not when we reduce food to abstracted quantitative measures, numbers, data, calories--when we make food into a thing and not an experience. In our Western culture we are constantly trying to reduce everything to cause and effect relationships so that we can predict outcomes. Obviously this is a by-product of a society that thrives on science in every way, but I want to see if there are ways we can step back from the empirical necessities. As Gabriel Marcel says, “Life is not a problem to be solved but an experience to be lived” and food is not a problem to be solved, but an experience to be enjoyed.
Each one of us has a different experience that we interpret to define food. But, unfortunately, as I said before, we’ve lost sight of this because we ask the usual questions: “Which foods are healthiest? What’s the optimum diet?” And really I cannot blame the American people because we are bombarded with the breakdown of food from the day we are born: “make sure your son/daughter gets enough vitamins/minerals/protein/fats, especially if you aren’t breastfeeding.” And then in kindergarten we go through the food pyramid and it is ingrained in our head each and every year of health/gym class from that day onward. And even walking into the grocery store we see the boxes of food labeling “fat-free” or “100% whole grain”. We hardly even question what these labels mean, but consume them because we feel what the companies tell us is in our best interest.
As hard as it is to step out of this mindset, even for someone like me, I want to enter the food conundrum from a different angle with a different question. We have to be aware of the questions we ask because what we ask shapes how we understand something and what we come to know about it.
So the guiding question I want to begin with in my inquiry is this:
How did the meaning of food enter my life?
I am trying to discover the distinct moments in my life when food became meaningful. It doesn’t just have to be one event. My outlook on food has been dynamic. When I was a child, the memory of eating oatmeal with my father on the weekends associated food with love and security. As I got older and was chastised for being chubby in elementary school, food became an outlet for my anger. Instead of taking personal responsibility and improving my health, I blamed food as the cause to all my problems. And as I’ve matured, I’ve realized that we should develop a nourishing relationship with food more than just the fact that it provides sustenance (and our ability to live). We should appreciate how the act of eating keeps us mindful and should be an enjoyable experience, through the process of cooking and tasting. Food should be used as the gateway between relationships and social experiences, but not a relationship itself that becomes a coping mechanism. And finally, food should be a way for us to reflect on our cultural heritage and explore the diverse ways we can expand our palate.
Through food we work out a sense of self, but also return to our community for a collective identity. Each moment of our lives where we step out of the bubble of just eating, food teaches us about who we are. Literally, we are what we eat and I want to discover the unique moments in humans where food has had a larger meaning. In our Western culture, we have become so focused on how food shapes us physically, our aesthetic bodies, that we have forgotten how food shapes us internally. It is the light of our life, a force that keeps us going and we must respect the sanctity of food. We must step away from the “absolutes” of food and find our own truths in our relationships with food so that we may allow food to become another tool in shaping us into who we are. Shaping us into a greater level of presence, wellness, and gratitude to this entity that does more than just satisfy our biological needs. If we stepped out of being so focused on others’ “Truths” about eating and focused on our own meaningful connections with food, I think many would be able to cure this struggling relationship with food-- something that may satisfy our physical hunger, but leave us mentally starving and confused.
This is the inquiry I am going to delve into as I step away from the health fad books on the shelves and introspectively examine myself in this thriving world.
So in the last few months of my senior year, I am going to be using this blog as a journal for what I uncover in my independent study-- books, articles, and my own experiences that I want to write about. As I said before, I hope this will be a great basis for how I want to outline my own business and hopefully I can even start a well-being counseling company in college as a side job. But before I let you go, I must ask:
How did the meaning of food enter your life?