I want to talk about food. It’s so much more than just nutrition. We have a complex, complicated, infuriating relationship with food. It’s bound up in external power structures and personal struggles for freedom or control.
There have been times when I just couldn’t be arsed to eat but that’s depression for you. Hunger failed to overcome lassitude until I could summon the oomph to toast some bread or boil a kettle for tea. There was just the smallest feeling that I might not be able to move my arse from the bed or the sofa but I could overcome the need to eat. Sometimes even the smallest and most stupid victory is all you have. There could be something of a much larger magnitude going on for some people living with eating disorders. I don’t really know.
In a more positive way, there is food as celebration. I’m an awful one for cake. It’s a code for a small luxury or reward and not just a confection of flour, eggs and sugar. It’s notable that we celebrate with cake and not, say corned beef sandwiches. (Other sandwiches are available.) We have birthday cakes and wedding cakes, cakes at Christmas and Easter and to mark every other celebration. Cake is acceptable when alcohol just isn’t and not just when children are involved.
I’d like to know why. Why it’s cake, that is, and not bread or cheese or fruit or honey or anything else. A birthday sausage is somehow almost completely wrong and not just for vegetarians. Sugar has been a luxury and indulgence for centuries. It’s very expense made it a means to display the wealth of the person laying on the spread. The depth of a man’s purse on display in the delicious shape of a very sweet slab of cake.
Celebratory cakes are an evident hangover from those times. We have a cultural memory of hand-crafted display and indulgence even if we can buy some mass-produced, iced confection from a supermarket for a couple of quid. I’m still not sure why it’s cake and not another expensive foodstuff like squid ink pasta, for example.
All those beautiful, tasty, sweet and sugary calories in cake bring me back to the complex emotional relationship we have with food. There is that slight tang of guilt that some of us swallow with every mouthful. If food is a reward for “good” behaviour then starvation can be a punishment for “bad” behaviour and there we have a very simple and probably completely inaccurate explanation of the origins of eating disorders.
I don’t want to talk about them and not only because I don’t know enough about them. Whatever I say about anorexia or bulimia or dysphoria would probably upset someone for no good reason and I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to link to Beat’s website and point you there. Whereof thou knowest nought, thereof thou shouldst keep silent. Nevertheless, if you know someone who would benefit from help, please point them or their loved ones in the right direction.
Remove the joy and the fellowship from food completely and you’re left with food as nutrition. The only place I’ve ever heard of food only as nutrition is from the founder of a company called Soylent. I can’t find the reference here to the interview. The attitude lying behind this product is that food is just food, a means to keep physiology running. I disagree completely, of course. A shared meal is an opportunity to bond and talk, to exchange ideas and news. When you do it, where you do it and what you eat while you’re doing it are all less important than the people you share the meal with and that you talk while you’re doing it. I don’t think you’d have much of a shared experience over a vat of concocted food powder. You’d have a better meal of porridge. The emotional connection goes through the food somehow to the other people.
All food comes from somewhere of course. Its production and distribution is increasingly complex. There are geo-political implications involved for nations in considering their food security. Meat production uses up land and resources and demand for meat is increasing as more people become wealthier. We’re going back to food as display here. I really want to talk about GMOs in food but that’s probably another post when I’ve had a chance to do more research. I’m not going to talk off the cuff about that. I will say now that I can see the value in using as many different technologies as possible to meet the challenge of feeding the billions of people living on our planet. The rational thing would be for us all to farm maggots or eat Soylent or its like but we’re not at all rational about food and that takes me back to where I started.
Sorry for the lack of swearing this week. Normal service will be resumed soon when I talk about fuckwits or falling over.