The nature of relationships: food

By Marc Felix and Kathrin Seitz | Jun 09, 2010

Luke from Lincolnville asks: I know that my relationship to food is really complicated. Is there anything you can say to help sort that out?

Marc's answer

All week I've been considering food and relationship, relationship and food. What's their relationship? Food for thought: if our relationships aren't going well, a lot of us turn to food.

I suppose it's an old story now that many people eat for emotional comfort and to try to fill an emptiness inside them. The gateway to the mouth is one of the first things that a small child gets to control. How many people turn to food when their lives feel chaotic so they can tap into that primal sense of control?

In my own life I notice that as my consciousness has grown, my choices of food have shifted. I was raised on TV dinners. At the time they came in aluminum trays covered with aluminum foil. You put them in the oven and halfway through or so you removed the aluminum foil from everything except the dessert and you stirred the mashed potatoes. As Woody Allen quipped, I had so many TV dinners that I still salivate when I see aluminum foil. My favorite TV dinner was fried chicken. Though the turkey with gravy was awfully good. And so was the macaroni and cheese.They were made by Swanson and some years later they added a line called "Hungry Man" TV dinners that had larger portions. The photos on the box were a great example of advertising fraud. The food inside never looked nearly that good nor were the portions as large. I don't think they call them TV dinners any more. And now, of course, frozen dinners come in trays that you can put in the microwave. I guess that's progress in our culture.

When I was living on my own I ate huge quantities of chocolate, with my lunch often consisting of two Devil Dogs and a YooHoo. I don't know why I didn't get malnutrition. Back in those days I thought fruit salad out of a can was healthy. I drank three cups of coffee every day and ate lots of ice cream liberally covered with Bailey's Irish Cream.

I first got a consciousness of nutrition when someone told me about macrobiotics. The austere combination of brown rice and sauteed vegetables was a quantum leap toward healthier eating. Somewhere along the line I realized that food doesn't just affect the body, but affects the mind, the emotions and our spirits.

We are all unique individuals, in both biochemical terms and in lifestyle. We all have to experiment with food to find out what gives us a sense of health, vitality and harmony.

We have to become conscious about our choices of what to eat. Irradiated foods, genetically modified foods, foods loaded with chemicals and fast foods surround us. We can't get away with taking the path of least resistance with what we eat.

The culture is so inundated with unhealthy food that if you make an effort to eat healthy, organic food you're apt to be seen as an extremist, a health nut, who's a pain in the neck because you won't eat at most restaurants.

"Eat to live or live to eat?" is the popular question about food. I suggest that a better question is: What way of eating contributes to our sense of balance and wholeness?
Mangos flambe, anyone?

Kathrin's answer

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.



Food, as we all know, is essential to our life, and, it is also pure emotion for many if not all of us. Just think of Tita and Pedro in "Like Water for Chocolate" and we know the allure and seduction of food. Tita is barred from marrying Pedro who instead marries her older sister. So Tita, a marvelous cook, begins to use the magical and seductive qualities of her cuisine to lure Pedro. In a tale of Shakespearean proportions, Tita and Pedro are reunited, many years later, for one last meal together. Pedro dies during the meal, and Tita, like Romeo, decides to die with him. This story is told through the medium of food. The images in the film are so enticing that we understand the behavior of the characters. Who could resist this food? Who could resist the woman who prepares it?

Our relationship to food is complicated. We need it as nourishment, but we desire it for all kinds of reasons. Whenever I eat mashed potatoes, I smile and think of my father. Ice cream will comfort me on the coldest of days. My friend Helen said, "I love food. I love thinking about it. Shopping for it. Preparing it and serving it." George Bernard Shaw said "there is no love sincerer than the love of food." Garrison Keillor goes even further: "Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn."

Many of us seem to have lost the straightforward, I'm hungry, I'll eat, I'll move on way of relating to food. Instead, we have "food issues." An entire industry in our culture caters to people with food issues -- books, TV shows, diet centers, food manufacturers. The bottom line is eat well and exercise and we'll all be fine. But many of us have what a friend of mine calls a default setting. When the stress gets big, whether it's good or bad stress, we default to excuse eating. Darlene's default setting is barbecue chips, rum raisin ice cream and Jack Daniels. Yummy? My friend Lem, who is svelte, said if it's rainy, it's an excuse to eat. If it's sunny, it's an excuse to eat. If she's in a bad mood she must eat. If she's in a good mood, she must eat to celebrate. What happened to the appestat, our internal mechanism that signals when we're hungry? It seems like a lot of us have lost this simple function.

I am well schooled in good and proper eating. I could get all preachy about the benefits of eating well. But who am I to judge people's eating choices. Two close friends of mine, brilliant, accomplished and obese, struggled with weight issues all their lives. One died of a massive heart attack at age 53. One recently underwent a kidney transplant, lost 100 pounds and has, I think, signed on for another 20 years of joyous living. We all are part of a grand design, a multifaceted and colorful quilt that makes up our world, some of us large, some small, all fascinating, all graceful and contributing in our own ways.


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