I feel ambivalent about food. I know I need it to survive. It's core to my very existence. It's enjoyable. It provides nurturance to myself and my family. Eating with others is an opportunity to be sociable and enjoy the company of others. A social event certainly wouldn't be the same without food. Making new dishes can be a way to tap into creativity.There's lots to like about food so you may be wondering why I'm feeling ambivalent about it.
Deciding what to eat day after day can be tedious, particularly when cooking for a family with members who have their own special tastes and needs. It's tiring to be attempt to be creative so often and preparing food can just be another burden to add to the day. It's a challenge to get the amount of food right, let alone the types of food as well. As a daughter of two parents with Type 2 Diabetes I am increasingly concerned about this and struggle with my own need to eat well to avoid the onset of that disease. Of course it's not always clear exactly what that means with lots of difference advice about low Gi, sugar free, low fat - and so on. It's not just the food but the combination of foods over the course of the day and the amount of exercise and activity which combines with the individual's metabolic system that creates their unique risk - or hopefully can protect them.
There's also something interesting about a person's relationship with food that needs to be managed. Eating can become a source of feeling powerless or powerful. If we feel like eating is out of control and our weight is spiralling towards obesity we can give up on healthy eating and look at food as comfort. If, on the other hand, we are struggling with feeling control in areas of our life eating can become something we can control, and we can starve ourselves to the detriment of our mental and physical health. Over time in either situation our thinking about food can become distorted and take on a life of its own, creating even more challenges for us to manage. Others who attempt to help us can struggle to know what to do.
We can be influenced in many different ways by advertising and easily become trapped in a web of mysterious health messages, often conflicting and with dubious evidence to support them. McDonalds, with their blend of healthy eating choices and their upsize mentality provide a clear example of this type of conflict. Advertising also sends young women, and not so young women and men as well, a range of messages about their value in our society being based on the way we look. If that's not a recipe for us to develop issues with eating I don't know what is.
Just to add another element to all of this complexity, we will also be harbouring the messages about eating and food from our childhood. For me this message is predominantly that I should eat everything on my plate because there are many children around the world who would love to be as lucky as me and have this much food. As an adult I am very conscious of this every time I don't finish a meal. I am also very conscious of the many children around the world, and indeed within Australia, who don't have sufficient food. I now know that these two things are not connected though and have other ways to provide support to those children in greatest need. My wasted food will not sustain them. It does remind me though of the privileged position many of us have in a society where food choices are rife and every day the supermarket has more and more food available to us.
So my ambivalence about food goes way beyond the actual acts of preparing and eating food every day. It taps into childhood memories, cultural and social expectations and concerns I have about mental and physical health. It's a complex web that has been weaved over my entire life that I fear will continue to challenge me into the future.