Food is fuel: it's a necessary and inescapable component of life. It's a practical commodity that, quite literally, we are unable to live without. Because, without food, our bodies simply do not have the sustenance to survive. But food offers so much more beyond being an essential requirement for life. For one thing, it's the stimulus for foodie lovers or writers, like me, to write on the subject. Food is the hot topic for countless TV shows and books, and sparks interesting (and the not so interesting) eating trends. Its common knowledge that you are what you eat, and this reflected in the ideas behind eating healthy, clean and unprocessed food.
I know I have to be very careful with the types of food I eat, as my digestive system and gut simply cannot cope with some foods. I suffered from a severe bout of Clostridium Difficile earlier in the year, and while I won't go into the in and outs of my illness (I'll let you Google that, but, warning, its not pleasant!), the upshot is that it has completely thrown my gut out of balance. My formerly hard core 'I can eat and drink anything I want' digestive system has now been reduced to a fairly pathetic version of itself. So, I'm forever cutting out different foods, trying to find out what aggravates my gut more than other things, and adjusting my diet accordingly. The current challenge: giving up wheat. And since I adore bread, this is hard.
My whole relationship with food has become consumed by the after-effects of my illness and dealing with them. As a result, I've forgotten that there's more to food than this. And I don't think I'm the only one. Looking at recipe books on sale, many have got caught up in an obsession with 'clean eating', dieting, watching what we eat and generally eating healthily. While it is fantastic that there are so many inspiring books that encourage healthy eating, this simply can't be the extent of our relationship with food. What about our experiences with food? Putting aside the other stuff, what does food mean to you?
When I think about my experience with food, my thoughts immediately go to my family. For me, food is family. Every evening, my dad would make it home by 6pm so that we could all sit down and have dinner together. We would share the highs and lows of our days, and on a Sunday, we would chat about our plans for the week. We never ate dinner in front of the television and very rarely was it ever just my brother and me. Food and meal times were, and still are, the glue that brought my family together and keeps us together. Now, despite the fact my brother and I have long since left home, whenever we return, it's always about the food. Our parents plan the meals, sharing new recipes and dishing out family favourites, so that ultimately the food enhances our trip and creates new memories. Food truly is family.
Studies have shown the importance of eating together. Children who eat regularly with their families are at a lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or substance addictions. It also gives families a chance to reflect on their days together and forges stronger bonds between parents and children. This is certainly true for me, and the relationships that were built over the kitchen table with my family are very important to me. As a result, 'adult' me still views the kitchen as the heart of the home.
Everyone has a different attitude to food, and it will mean different things to different people. For me, though, good quality, healthy food is important, but without the socio-familial aspect, there is something sorely lacking from my relationship with food. The social importance of food, and eating together, should not be downplayed or replaced by a focus on purely what we are eating. So while I will continue watching what I eat (because I have to), I'll remember this is not food's main attraction, but only a part of what food really means to me.