Starting this summer, my colleague (and friend) Brian Bouldrey and I will be teaching a new course called The Culture and Politics of Food. In honor, I hunted through my journal to find an essay I wrote over 12 years ago, procrastinating from doing lab work. So here it is. Enjoy!
I’ve always considered eating more than just a basic life sustaining behavior. Sure, you can argue that at the root of it, as biological organisms we must eat to stay alive. But as humans, we have evolved into something more than just life sustaining creatures. We do more than eat.
We feast. We indulge. We experience.
Some of my most cherished memories are of meals – or revolve around meals. As sophomores in college, my two best friends and I went to Chicago for our spring break. There we found a small Mexican restaurant that was nestled tightly beneath the tracks of the El in Evanston. The menu itself was not extraordinary – chips & salsa, burritos, margarita and fried ice cream. But something about the mere sharing of the food made the evening unforgettable. Whenever the three of us get together, we still reminisce about that night.
Years ago I was in New Orleans for the Society for Neuroscience conference. New Orleans is the city of Sin – and gluttony is well represented there. You don’t just eat – you feast upon dishes that tantalize your taste buds. And over red beans and rice, gumbo, shellfish, beer pints and Etoufee, a fairly eclectic group of people became friends. We were a hodge-podge of scientists, each brining to the table a little of whom we were. There was Mark who bluntly told everyone he met that he was gay, Cat and her deep rooted spirituality that fought against all the science she learned and loved, Deanna who searched for meaning to what she was going through, Scott and Jun who just wanted to make sure that everyone that evening was having fun. And me – me just content to sit and watch it all, to be part of it all. To know that I belonged somewhere, to some group. There was something about the free flowing of food that allowed us all to open up and share. As we ate more (we fired through three dozen oysters and more pitchers of beer than I care to count) we shared more of ourselves – maybe it was because as we ate there was literally more of ourselves to share.
How is it we bond emotionally to those we share food with? How could something so simple – just putting food in our mouths – become the focus point of celebrations and anniversaries? Perhaps it is because we somehow expose our vulnerabilities; that by eating with someone we implicitly acknowledge how we are all equal? We are all dependent upon food.
Why is it we feel compelled to eat with those we desire? Why do we have romantic dinner dates? Why is it that we find it so rewarding to fix meals for those we love?
Because, I think, it is what we are. We eat. And for whatever reason, I personally love to eat. I love to eat simple foods – barbeque chicken and corn on the cob for the 4th of July, to fondue of shrimp, venison, and wild caught turkey on Christmas Eve. I think it is because it gives us something to remember. When we are left with nothing, when our friends are in other places, when your lover is gone and with another, we still have something that makes us complete. We still exist.
We still have food.