What is the Meaning of Food in Our Lives? It’s More Than Its Definition.
When you look up “What is the meaning of food?”, it is undoubtable that you will find the dictionary definition.
However, it is incredibly rare that you will find a relation that goes beyond the traditional definition…something that surpasses what is understood and what is already known about food.
That is what this post is about. This post will take your understanding of food to another level…one beyond the limits of the definition.
So then…when we talk about the meaning of food, what are we talking about?
As said, we are not talking about the definition. But, it must also be said that it is, in fact, not just the “meaning of food.” It is the “meaning of food in our lives”, looking at the role that food plays for us on a whole.
The first and possibly the most important role that food plays is the provision of the materials and energy our body needs to function and for us to survive. This is the physiological role of food. The meaning of food in this sense deals with our body and the physical aspects concerning the necessity of food.
On the other hand, food has a role that is much more than meeting our physiological needs. Food also meets our psychological needs- that is, as it relates to our mental and emotional state.
No matter how old we are or how old we get, food has that unique role of establishing a certain mental or emotional effect.
Think about it…When we were babies, we formed a bond with those around us partly on the grounds that they fed us. If we were upset, we cried for someone to hold us but also for a bottle. Even as we grew up and became capable of feeding ourselves, food continued to be the focus of social interactions and family traditions.
Food and Its Emotional Importance
Throughout our lives, providing food is considered to be a sign of love, affection and friendship.
Breastfeeding while cuddling a baby causes the baby to experience both physical and emotional satisfaction. Offering “comfort food”, for example, chicken soup, when someone is sick helps him or her feel better, not only through the effects that the warmth and nutrients of the soup has on the body but also the thought that someone is thinking of them and wishing for their well-being. Basically, through food and the act of someone giving us food, we are shown that we are loved.
Food can also be used to express our moods or emotional state. When we are sad, what do we immediately grab? That tub of ice cream. When we are stressed, what do we go for? Our favourite comfort foods. Food has a way of giving us comfort and a sense of security that masks or even dulls the pain we are experiencing.
And what’s more is that food does not only express moods and emotional states but it also creates them. Many times, we link certain foods with certain memories- whether good or bad. Eating one kind of food today may make you remember an experience that brought you immense joy in the past. In the same way, it can make you remember a time in your life that brought you immense pain. These memories cause us to develop certain associations with food, causing us to believe that they will either make us happy or sad and affecting our eating habits.
Food as a Definition of Who We Are
Food is part of your identity- whether it be personal, cultural, socioeconomic or religious identity.
For example, food is a part of my cultural identity. I am from Trinidad and Tobago and as a people, we love food. Anyone who knows a Trinbagonian knows that “we love our bellies.” We have a wide variety of food that is known worldwide and many people who of our country, associate our people with delicious food and cuisine.
It must be known that many of these identity messages are based on stereotypes. Take food as a symbol of socioeconomic identity, as an example. When we think of the upper class, we associate them with meals served on expensive dishes; that the eat expensive and exotic foods and we think the opposite of the lower class. However, we know that this is not always the case but we still make the association.
Food can be used as a definition of if we are good or bad. A child who behaves well, does his or her homework and cleans his or her room may be rewarded with ice cream or a treat. A child who does the exact opposite may get nothing. And we make this association with us as we become adults. Successes and accomplishments are rewarded with food.
In terms of religious identity, many times the religions that we practice encourage us to eat certain foods or even, restrict us from eating certain foods.
Food and Social Interaction
This is a fact. You cannot deny it.
Food is usually the centre and focus of all social gatherings. Food is used to symbolise and commemorate any and every event. Marriages and anniversaries are celebrated with food, baby showers are filled with all sorts of delicious treats and even funerals are topped off with a feast. Sometimes, certain foods define holidays. Birthdays are not birthdays without a cake, chocolates are synonymous with Valentine’s Day and Christmas dinner must have a ham on the table. We tend to focus our life’s events on food and the only way that we can celebrate these special days is with food.
But this does not only apply to particularly special days. Food is also the cornerstone of everyday social interactions. Lunch is eaten with friends, dinner is eaten with family around the dinner table. Family gatherings are centred around cookouts.
As you can see, food is way more that its dictionary definition. It is even way more than the provision of sustenance for the body. Food encompasses its affects on our mental and emotional state and therefore, deals with the psychological as much as it deals with the physiological.
Leave me a comment and let me know what food means to you!