The 14th was Valentine’s Day, when lovers old and new celebrated their love. Many celebrations included a special meal prepared by one lover for another. As an avid home cook, I subscribe to numerous cooking magazines and each one featured sumptuous recipes to woo with on Valentine’s Day. (I, on the other hand, didn’t cook at all on Valentine’s Day because we were camping with my son’s Cub Scout troop but that is another post to come.)
Food as seduction or an expression of love is nothing new. It has been featured in movies “Like Water for Chocolate” and “Chocolat“. Chefs and their cookbooks rave about how tempting or indulgent a particular recipe is and cuisines around the globe vie for the title of the most romantic. But for all our celebrations with food on special occasions, we have lost an important connection to food as expression in our daily life. We all know about the importance of food in terms of nutrition, it is all over the news, and we obsess over one ingredient over another: butter is good, butter is bad; eat more more nuts but too many almonds are dangerous and so on. We analyze labels and prefer organic over non, pure over processed, local over imported. We have it down to a science but we have lost the art. We have come to expressing with food on special days only and sometimes not even then.
To clarify, expressing with food, in this case, implies that you make it. It doesn’t matter if it a simple or elaborate meal but if a restaurant made it is not the same thing. The evening might be special but you are not communicating through food in the way I am writing about.
I wasn’t always a passionate cook. Even though I always said I “liked” to cook, daily meals were considered a chore. I would cook on holidays and when we had company over but for day to day cooking. I was happy to leave to restaurants or even some processed foods if given the chance. It has only been through my relationship with my ex, whose Indian culture places food as one of the highest expressions of love, that I have come to fully embrace cooking on a daily basis. It is through daily cooking that I have come to realize how powerful food is as a form of expression, one which as a culture we have all but learned to ignore.
My personal theory is that we Americans as a culture have lost our connection with food as expression because, as a result of the feminist movement, more women have entered the workplace and there was an across the board rejection of the 1950’s values, when women were expected to have dinner on the table when the man returned from work. This rejection by women, who did all the cooking back then, has resulted in women not only refusing to cook but new generations never learning. The men, on the other hand, while may still desire the women to cook, if at all progressive do not expect them to do so. But, by the same token, they do not cook themselves, or with the exception of barbeques.
The result is that no one really takes the responsibility of meal preparation and that combined with our increasingly busy schedule and short attention spans, as resulted in a culture where the majority of meals are provided by restaurants or packaged foods from supermarkets. Not only is our health and nutrition suffering, we have forgotten about one of the most powerful ways to unite a family and to express love.
Now let me step back for a minute before all the feminist women who are reading this raise their hackles. I am not implying that we should go back to the 1950’s, nor am I implying that women should be the ones who do all the cooking. I am a feminist myself and I do most of the cooking because I enjoy it but my ex cooks too. What I am saying is that meal preparation is one of the most important things a family can do and we have shuffled it aside and, because of our cultural associations with cooking from the 1950’s, we have just left the role unassigned. Imagine, a company where you had to make deliveries to customers but no one stepped forward to be in charge of it. Then when a delivery needed to be made there would be no planning, no clear chain of command. The result would be a communication mess and deliveries that were late or never made.
We plan our vacations, our workouts, our children’s after school activities, but we rarely plan our meals in the same way. Mealtime is an afterthought, a rush, something that is picked up on the way home or ordered in. Yet, as my ex used to say:
“Food is the most important thing to share in a relationship because food is life. Without food you die.”
Lots of other cultures know this as meals are always shared, celebrations always are full of food and food preparations are an important part of each day. In India, a mother might prepare a special snack for her child to show love, often instead of physical contact like a hug. (Personally I like both.)
The food does not have to be fancy or gourmet. It isn’t about how special the recipe is, it is about being conscious of an important part of life and honoring that importance. By elevating the importance of food in your families lives you pass that importance on to them. Families connect around the dinner table, all sharing the meal they know is just for them. They will learn how to respect their body through food, not just fill it with the right fuel. They will also learn the subtle ways you can say “I love you.” through the daily care of mealtime.
Don’t wait for a special occasion, bring the language of food into your home and express yourself.