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Food is a Lot Like Love — Here’s Why

Published:
December 14, 2023
June 19, 2023
Learn how food and love are intertwined with each other.

The first meal I remember eating is peanut butter and jelly smeared on Ritz crackers in the backseat of a car. I was two years old and my mom fed me them one by one, the crumbs crumbling down my chin and peanut butter gumming my mouth. I was sitting with my parents and grandmother under the soft gray of the Montana sky, watching a haggard mountain goat clomp through the parking lot in Glacier National Park. While I cannot clearly recall the rest of the story — apparently we followed the goat up Going-To-The-Sun Road to watch it claim a perch on a cliff — I remember the crackers as clearly as the animal.  

The best meal I’ve ever had also took place on a family vacation, this time when I was thirteen.  We were in Hilton Head and went to the Old Oyster Factory where I had crab cakes so buttery and herb-ladden and soft that later when I put pictures of the trip in my photo album, I wrote a caption detailing what I’d ordered and the bright corn and tomato salad that came with it. I remember walking down the side of the oceanfront restaurant to the gravely patch next to the water, throwing pebbles with my siblings and watching the breeze tussle the tall seagrass.  

Food plays many roles in our lives. It’s an evoker of memories, providing a timestamp for moments of joy and wonder. It is a stimulant for conversations that deepen our intimacy with each other and the object of acts of service. It allows us to love and love well, cresting over our experiences whether they be romantic, familial, or platonic.

In many ways, food can serve a similar purpose as art or music does. It gives us a slice of beauty, a chance to experience our senses in a way that goes beyond physicality and reaches into the spiritual. While food is a necessity, good food — especially when shared — becomes a gateway to discussion and connection. Eating watermelon in my grandma’s kitchen one day, she told me about how once when she was a child, she ate too much and to this day cannot eat it. She shared how she would walk with her family from their house in Bucktown all the way to the beach in the heat of the Chicago summer, and her mother would cut them fat slices of the fruit when they returned home. Food was a launching point for a memory, a story about the small things a mother does to show love.

The temporary quality of food also distinguishes it from art — while I can return to Oscar Peterson’s jazz or Jhumpa Lahiri’s words, I cannot repeat the experience of having a particular food. Even if it is the same recipe, the specific substance will be different. The ephemerality of food makes it all the more precious so that each meal feels as if it is made especially for us in that moment because, in a way, it is.

In The Gastronomical Me, the food writer M. F. K. Fisher says, “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” While food cannot replace love, it does plunge us into the present like love does. When we eat, we accept that we are experiencing a moment that will never happen again, that whatever feelings we get from the food and context are bound to fluctuate. Yet we eat anyway because we need to, just as we love without knowing for certain if we will get back what we offer. We love not only because we must, but because we are given the chance to do so, and whatever heartbreak that has drowned us in the past tells us that such an opportunity should not be squandered.

Maybe that is how we love food well and appreciate all that it offers us — we succumb to the passing of time, we let ourselves taste and savor knowing that it will end in an instant. We acknowledge with terrifying certainty that this instance will not exist again, that we only have what is in front of us until it is consumed by time or our bodies. But like love, there is also trust, the resolution that no matter what happens, we will return to it, we will need it again, and it will be there for us.

Creators:
Grace Spiewak
Published:
December 14, 2023
June 19, 2023
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