Probably ink has been more elegantly spilled describing how important food is to humans but sometimes you just need something that fills up your mind and soul just as much as your stomach.
Food is probably as close as you can get to a human universal. It’s a basic part of nearly everyone on Earth’s day to day life.
In this way, food is function. Food helps us stay alive, helps us move and live and thrive. On the one hand I can understand people’s frustration with food, how one might need to slow down to eat – sometimes several times a day. Convenience products like Soylent and protein shakes and other meal replacement products have an appeal especially for people who aren’t that keen on food.
But me? I’m keen on food.
I’d describe myself, easily and happily, as food motivated. I think about the next meal immediately after I’ve finished one. I think about how great it is to have a fridge full of items I could combine into delicious new things. I enjoy the novelty of new foods as much as the soft, comfortable understanding of familiar ones.
Food for me is just as social as it is nourishing. Food is defined in the way it’s eaten, in the company its eaten with, in the agreement of the person who cooks and the person who eats – even if that person is just me cooking for myself. Food is a gift we give ourselves or a gift we bestow on others. Sometimes food is even simply the gift of company.
I think about breaking bread with people. About diving into a pile of appetizers together at a party. Of people hesitating to take the last piece, the last bite of something, because we know, deep down, food is better when it’s shared freely.
The foods I like the most have nothing to do with the apex of nutrition or fuel or anything purely mechanical in nature but of memories and people and connections.
My mother is a pretty avid cook. Not always the best one but she always made good, steady food whenever she could. What I always loved best though were egg and cheese sandwiches. My mother would use a large pat of butter in a small frying pan, wait until it sizzled and browned and then fry an egg and toast up two pieces of bread with a slice of bright orange American cheese which would ooze out the side of the bread on contact with the egg. That greasy, buttery mess tastes better than nearly anything else on Earth to me. While my mother made dishes that were more complex, more sophisticated, more spiced, more vibrant it was always the egg and cheese sandwich I would drift back to.
Part of it is the rarity. We didn’t always have butter on hand and time was even more scarce. There was almost never time to stand there in the kitchen having to patiently make each sandwich by itself, 10, 15 minutes per sandwich with no leftovers to speak of and the possibility of needing a second one eating up precious minutes. Exhausted, stolen minutes.
The other half was the care. The fact that someone would take 15 minutes out of their life to make you exactly what you wanted. The egg always made to my strict specifications, sometimes my mother would re-make the sandwich if it wasn’t just right and she would eat the offending “mistake”. It was not just something that would fill up my stomach but something that would lift my spirits to know someone cared so much. This is what I think about whenever I make food for other people. That’s what I hope the food I can give other people is, real comfort food, a way to lighten their load. A way to nourish them right down to the core of their very being.
All my very favorite comfort foods are simple things because I’m not seeking the most wild flavor or the best tasting thing in my life, I’m looking for something far simpler and far more out of reach. Comfort food needs to bring you to a safe, warm space where you can taste how much someone cares for you. Taste how much someone loves you.
So maybe for other people it’s a pot pie or a cake from a specific boxed mix or even a steak heaped up with green beans. Maybe it’s the sounds inside the kitchen as the food is made, or the songs sung while dough is kneaded. Maybe it’s the chew of a noodle or the crunch of fried chicken skin that gives you a moment to breathe in your own body. Comfort food isn’t just food, it’s an experience that ferries us to a safe place that we can call back to again and again whenever we need it.
One of the best feelings in the world to me is when you take the last bite of something and you feel full in a way that has nothing to do with your stomach and everything to do with your heart.
That’s how I hope my food will always taste.