I have a complex relationship with food, similar to the complex relationship I have with others. Both of these stem from my upbringing, my earliest interactions with my mother and – I am certain – my female hormones. Throughout my life I have equated food with mood, using food to replace just about everything that’s missing in my life.
In his post It’s Time for a New Relationship With Food Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes: “technically, food is just fuel for living. That’s all — nothing else.” To be fair, that’s not all he says, and you should read it to see why I picked this one statement out of many others. I reacted to the implication that food – eating! – is a problem.
Many commentors were happy to accept the idea of thinking less about food than we so-called “food-obsessed” Americans do. Or eating better food so we feel full more easily. But I had a strong reaction to the idea that we should (or can) resist the temptation of food except as a means for cell function and survival. This takes all the heart out of food. After all, where does our first food come from?
After my initial view of myself as not only the center of the universe but THE universe, my mother is slowly revealed to me, in infancy, to be – ta da – a separate person who willingly (selflessly!) gives me the sustenance I so desperately need. What a saintly creature this is, arriving again and again with what I crave. Of course this gives rise to all sorts of problems later on if food doesn’t arrive exactly when summoned (or at all) and/or is given on some arbitrary and efficient schedule rather than WHEN I’M HUNGRY! Not to mention it may be “portioned out” in amounts reported to be good for my health, rather than letting me find my own satiation point. Anyone need a good therapist? I can recommend one.
So when Leo says “Food is the answer to everything, apparently,” he is being sort of sarcastic, but he is also correct. I disagree with Leo’s basic premise. Advertising doesn’t make us overeat. Serving danish at meetings doesn’t make us overeat. Popcorn at movies doesn’t make us overeat. Television doesn’t make us overeat. What makes us overeat is hunger. Mother hunger, friend hunger, touch hunger, connection hunger, and poverty of spirit, of connection and of meaning. What makes us overeat in our culture is the lack of nourishment, not its excess. And I’m not talking about eating healthier foods. I’m talking about nourishment like hugging, loving, accepting, acceptance – belonging.
Alienation, that’s what makes us eat. We miss being two, not one. How many times have you completely forgotten about food while first in love? Or while in the flow of working on your art? You were getting a different kind of food, a different kind of fullness, and it doesn’t happen near enough or long enough to keep us from going back to feeding our stomach – searching for serotonin, or tranquility, or excitement.
Feed your heart. Let it find its own satiation point and food will take its rightful place at the beginning of the search for fullness, not its only source. But also love food. Don’t let anyone talk you into disparaging or avoiding food. Eat is not a four letter word, but our culture’s obsession with denying our deepest wishes would make it seem so. Our hearts are being fed someone else’s idea of what we should eat, on someone else’s schedule. And we wonder why we’re hungry.
Here is my comment on the post:
I disagree completely. Food is the first mode of attachment, to mother, and it remains so throughout our lives. Attachment allows us to live and food feels like that first life-saving attachment. I understand that I am admitting that we often regress when we eat. Food is the reminder of nourishing love we received or were denied in those first crucial months. Some will overeat to feel “full of mom” and others will overeat because they were never full of her. Some won’t eat as a denial of dependency, to feel in control of this intense desire to consume.
We cannot, even as adults, deny this most basic dynamic. Food=mother. How we related to our mothers, the fact that we have this earliest experience of food as part of self, then as love from another, is intimately tied to our relation to food the rest of our lives. Oral needs can be diverted into other activities but the need for receiving nourishment never subsides. Think about that next time you shove that giant mound of pasta or that double cheeseburger into your mouth and feel the ecstasy. If food is not a preoccupation for you in your daily life, you should consider yourself fortunate. You are in the minority.