Food is more than calories and nutrients. The what, when, where and with whom we eat is so much more than just a sum total of nutrition it provides. What identity, history and tradition are you passing on with the foods you eat and your food habits? Aside from delivering nutrients, food has many other roles. Here are four to consider:
Relationships. The origin of the word “companionship” comes from the sharing of bread (or pan) with someone. Inviting someone to share a meal or a beverage is often the first step in getting to know another person. In some instances, it is culturally taboo in many ways to refuse an invitation to share a meal and could even be viewed as a rejection of the host or a hostile action toward them.
Trust. Eating is a very unique experience for our body. The GI tract is the only completely open organ system and when we eat we are exposing ourselves to some vulnerability. Food could cause an allergic reaction, or make us sick, or in the extreme, be poisonous, so eating food prepared by someone else becomes an act of trust.
Control. Food is power. Whether on a large national scale, or simply within your own family, the person who controls the food wields the power. I remember as a kid, sneaking food to my bedroom – not because it was forbidden to eat that food, but just the thought that I could eat what, when and I where I chose was appealing. Kids especially crave that power and it is a delicate balance in feeding kids to allow them some control when it comes to food.
Identity. Food shapes our identity as a group. For example, if you are served fry sauce with your French fries, you know you’re among Utahns, but if your fries come with gravy and cheese curds, you know you’re amongst Canadians. Food shapes our identity as an individual. For example, being vegetarian, being a dark chocolate eater, or maybe just being the only in the house that doesn’t like nuts creates a descriptive sense of identity.
Food teaches much more than nutrition and a list of how nutrients affect our health. It teaches manners, patience, cooperation and sharing. It hopefully teaches delayed gratification, serving others, organization and planning. It tells a story of who you are, what you love, where you came from and often involves memorable stories within your family. It hopefully teaches you about your past, but also how to be a wise steward of resources going forward. If you haven’t thought much about food beyond what you can stuff in your gullet to silence the hunger, maybe you should sit down and think about what food means or should mean to you and how you are going to pass that cultural legacy along to others.