Food . . . it’s more than what you put into your mouth

by Cheryl on October 16, 2009

Humans are animals. We need water, food and shelter. Our skin is tender, we’re slow moving, our offspring need years of care before they can fend for themselves, we can’t fly, and our teeth and fingernails are lousy weapons. But we have BIG brains. And we use them to figure out how to cover our skin to protect ourselves from temperature extremes and how to make tools to kill animals. We figured out which roots and leaves and berries were safe to eat. We learned to harness fire. We’re pretty darned smart.

Humans, like dogs and wolves and most other animals, need connection with our own kind. There is a whole catalog of words that describe communities of particular animals. My favorites include:

  • a murder of crows
  • a scold of jays
  • a convocation of eagles
  • a clutter of cats 
  • a covey of partridges

Human groups have names like family, clan, village, community, sorority, fraternity, congregation, neighborhood. . . city. Hmmm . . . cities. How were they formed? What is their relationship to food sources? Huh? Food and cities are related? You betcha!

Carolyn Steel is an architect. Here she talks about how food has shaped our cities. It’s a brain-stretcher if you’ve never thought about it before, but why do you think you have a brain? It’s the best tool you have for survival and it needs exercise as much as your legs do if you want to keep walking.

My passion right now is to empower young people to feed themselves nutritiously, deliciously and inexpensively when they go out on their own . . . but food is way more than just putting fuel into a body. Food connects us . . . to ourselves, our family and friends, our community, to our species and to our home planet. It connects us to our history and DNA. 

Heck . . . understanding our relationship to food may uncover some of the most important keys to ensuring the survival of our species. 

Tomorrow I’ll travel for hours to Seattle to eat a vegetarian Greek dinner prepared by a close friend. I’ll spend the night at her place and we’ll play a little the next morning. I love and miss her company so just going to see her would be enough . . . BUT . . . (or maybe it’s AND) . . . it’s a dinner party. She is creating an event to bring together friends from different parts of her world.  It will be delicious (she’s a killer cook), elegant (and a very classy lady), and the conversation will go on for hours over food. She’s bringing together parts of her community that are geographically scattered and building new connections. She’s using food as the glue. She is a Wise Woman.

Connecting to others by sharing food has been an important experience for humans for thousands of years. 

How do you connect to yourself and others with food? What does food mean to you?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Roscoe Johnson October 23, 2009 at 11:22 am

Food is mostly a solitary thing for me, as there is probably deep-seated shame about being fat. I don’t have a solid handle on eating for nutrition’s sake – I’m usually feeding my mouth and/or my emotions. Knowing this about myself, though, I’ve found nutritious foods that also appeal to my mouth and emotional needs. And I don’t stress about my occasional forays into processed and unhealthy food consumption – although I do avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup and extremely fatty stuff.

Just made a delicious hot curried chicken w/ black-eyed peas, but keep eating it too close to bedtime – resulting in horrific unrestful sleep and bad dreams. Lately it’s been recurrent stressful “fall of civilization” type dreams with fighter jets in the sky and buildings burning, chaos in the streets and unable to connect with family and friends. Another recurrent theme is an erotic scenario where I’ve joined some kind of cult, and regret it as things get weirder and am trying to figure out how to escape … but an attractive cult member seems to be luring me into a sexual tryst; The process of seduction keeps getting interrupted repeatedly by various distractions, then I wake up very frustrated.

THERE’S a theme for a future blog post: The junction of food and sex.

admin October 26, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Gary . . . even as a teenager you could reflect your world more honestly than most humans I know. And it’s a gift.

Food, for most of us in this culture, is far more than simply fuel to the body. We spend billions on “diet”-related products. I know I use food to escape discomfort, anxiety, or boredom. But my biggest transgressions are in social gatherings. Give me a pot-luck and I stuff myself. Just got back from four ultra-social days in Oakland and I’m still stuffed. Then I had lunch with friends today, Blessings pot-luck tomorrow, two parties next weekend . . . I need to get a handle on “social” eating and drinking.

We live in a “civilization” that is aggressive and unsustainable. Your dreams reflect that reality. I wonder if there’s a way you can transcend the current physical reality with connection to Spirit . . . however you understand that. I would think that, as an artist, you have an open connection.

Regarding food and sex . . . they have long been associated. You probably know Like Water for Chocolate. USA culture is one of the most backward in this department . . . partly a cause of our extra weight.

Gary Roscoe Johnson October 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I’m closed-off socially and emotionally. And sexually. I sublimate these in the few pleasures I allow myself: I indulge / overindulge in food and frequently find myself moved to tears by good music and art.

The “honesty” you refer to comes from a weird lifelong inability to make small-talk. This social awkwardness outside of the context of being a “creative” person might be diagnosed as a high-functioning autism or Aspergers. I wonder if this “honesty” is contagious, because In the course of tattooing people, I often find the client opening up to me with personal information that would probably not emerge under normal circumstances – I think it has something to do with the disarming effect of pain, the intimacy of breaking the skin / bloodshed, and the trust a person has to put in their tattooist to permanently mark them. Sometimes after a tattoo is done and the client has left, I ask myself, “Did we really just have a conversation about XXXX??!!” Is it a gift? Or do I suffer from an inability to sense personal boundaries?

So, how do I tie this in with food, to keep it relevant to the topic? Actually, food (if you can call it that) HAS been a topic of small-talk while I tattoo. Sunday, I discussed Spam with a client while I tattooed a gory crucifix on their forearm over the course of 3 hours. They mentioned growing up poor and having to eat the stuff because it used to be inexpensive – and offered me a Spam recipe passed along from their mother that they swore was absolutely delicious: it involved peas, cream-of-mushroom soup, shell-noodles, and a few other ingredients I must have blocked from my memory out of traumatic disgust. Maybe I should try “bringing up” food more often when struggling with small-talk!

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