Food. Nourishment. Grub. Whatever you want to call that stuff you stuff into your mouth, its intended purpose is to support life.
I remember watching a TED Talk comparing the human brain to other primates. Our brains are more evolved because we cook our food. Could it really be that simple? It is, and here’s why: In order for the brain to grow and develop, it must be fed. The number of calories a human body burns in a day depends on its level of activity; but not your brain. It makes no difference if your brain is sleeping, designing rocket ships or trying to figure out common core math, it will burn 500 calories each and every day, no matter what.
If you were a gorilla, and only ate raw twigs and leaves, you would have to spend most of your waking hours eating to consume enough calories just to stay alive. If a gorilla had the capacity to cook (or, at the very least, make a smoothie), it could reduce large volumes of consumables into smaller, more easily digestible meals. By doing so, it could take in many more calories in much less time, making its brain larger and presumably, smarter.
So, it was the discovery of fire that essential transformed us into the species we are today. These are scientific facts, people, and I don’t dispute them. But here’s where I get tripped up: what was the turning point that changed our fuel from throwing the day’s kill onto the fire pit into dinner parties for eight, complete with wine pairings?
Who was the first Homo erectus Martha Stewart? Did she one day think, “Hmm, I wonder if this animal flesh would taste better combined with sprigs of vegetation and some roots?” Was it she that decided meals tastes better when shared with friends? “Hey, let’s invite the Uga-ugas over this Saturday night!”
Was this the advent of our complicated relationship with food?
It’s hard to picture an early ancestor sitting around the cave thinking, “I’m not really hungry, but I could go for a nosh.” I don’t think lower-food chain animals behave this way. Would a lion ever hunt down a gazelle because it’s feeling a tad peckish? Can you imagine a bear polishing off a salmon because there’s nothing good on TV? Or what if a chipmunk’s mate ran away? Would it scarf down all the nuts it was saving for winter because it had no access to raw cookie dough?
No, these disordered uses of food are strictly human. I hate to be a downer, but let’s face it, we sometimes take the very thing that’s meant to keep us alive and use it to slowly kill ourselves. They don’t call it “death by chocolate” for nothing.
And even if you have a very healthy diet, I doubt you view food as simply a way of transporting nutrients into your body. No, we modern day humans have turned our food into so much more.
Food is a major component of our social lives. We use it to celebrate, to bring people together, to give pleasure, to comfort, to express love…all good things in moderation.
My personal relationship with food, or more specifically eating, is based on romance…and sometimes anger…but mostly romance. When I speak about a good meal, I create a narrative, a sensuous, seductive story detailing every nuance of every bite.
Once, while recommending a restaurant to a friend, my husband said, “They have really good ravioli.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” I said. “They have delectable cheese-filled pasta pillows, that taste like they are lovingly assembled by the chubby hands of little cherubs…so tender, I could have rested my head on them and slept.”
Now, that’s romantic.
Want to know what’s not romantic? A date that does not involve a meal, that’s what.
Every Thursday night, my husband and I go on a date. Whether we’re seeing a show, or going to a concert, we always start by going out to dinner. One night, to mix things up a little, I suggested we have a quick bite at home and spend our date playing tennis. Great idea, right? Sure, if you think throwing a hissy fit on date night adds a nice spice to a marriage. I played so badly, the evening devolved into a lot of excuses, blaming, cursing, and pouting. Sexy, no? After that failed experiment, it was back to candlelit restaurants for us - back to savoring each seductive morsel with a good glass of wine and relaxing conversation.
We also judge others by what they eat.
I once threw a dinner party, not knowing one guest was in the middle of doing a cleanse. Why would someone on a cleanse come to a dinner party in the first place? You tell me. Anyway, he couldn’t eat anything I served, but as luck would have it, I made floral arrangements out of carnations, clementines, squash blossoms and Nasturtiums. So, he ate the centerpiece. True story! And, yes, we all judged him.
The bottom line is this: Food is complicated. We don’t really know why we eat the way we do, or why we like some things but loathe others. All we can really be sure of is that grub does more than just sustain our bodies. It nourishes our hearts, our imaginations, our relationships and feeds the soul.
So, this Thanksgiving, I hope you find yourself sitting at a table with the people you love, feeling full of life’s blessings and enjoying all the flavors of this world’s abundance.