By Tinky Ningombam
I have a love-hate relationship with food. I love good food but I hate it when I gain weight because of it. A fight against complex carbohydrates and desserts never seem to be a fair one. And besides all the ironies in life, the best tasting food are almost always fattening, unhealthy or sinful.
Each of us has different relationships with food. Some of us eat food to survive, some to entertain; but we always don’t seem to get enough of the variety. Especially when people talk about a particular culture, they first start talking about their cuisines. In each culture, food items become symbolic and we attach our own meanings to it through religious tradition, rituals or plain humane emotions. In this regard, I read a fantastic article about Food symbolism in the BBC online Magazine in which they talked about celebratory food, about how we always use the idea of a feast to denote emotions such as happiness, gratitude or social communion.
And I could relate it to our traditional feasts and in the variety of dishes used. The way in which we always set aside a “chaak-luk” (a meal serving) for the eldest in the feast. Or sending “kwa” in an invitation. So from “breaking bread” to breaking a fast with a kosher vegan dish, humans have taken the concept of food to a whole metaphysical level. Almost every food item that we have has a collective symbolism or history, sometimes we give it a personal one. In fact, personal symbolisms for different dishes are universal. Till today, I swear by the rule that a nice piece of rich chocolate can indeed drive all misery away.
It goes without saying that particular food reminds us of childhood, of home, of people. It can affect us to suddenly shift our mood, become happy or nostalgic. We sometimes attach food to personal security. When one is sick, a bowl of soup denotes “Love”, and in hectic schedule “a breakfast in bed” becomes a luxury. Food has always meant a lot of things than just food. And yes, the old adage of “the hungry man is the angry man” will ring true till eternity. And with food, sometimes we feed our ego, our self-esteem besides just our tummy.
I like exploring new tastes and constantly find joy in trying out new food as much as I enjoy the ones that I have been fond of since I was a child. And again, what is interesting to me is that we have had different varieties of food with different varieties of ingredients for most part of our lives and somehow we are not done and maybe we never will. I speak of a time before microwave cooking and instant foods. Besides packaged food or imports, think about the variety of food that is prepared in your home alone. And no house prepares food exactly the same as the other (unless it’s blanched spinach or smoked fish) ; every family’s food has a different taste. Most of us who grew up in our own family homes, we have always envied the uniquely different tasting food from our neighbors and the fact that we were happy to eat other people’s food much to the ire of our mothers.
And are you defined by the food you eat? Well maybe yes. A lot of wild assumptions can be made here but do you not for a minute judge a family by their food habits or by what you find in their fridge? Besides expensive food or exotic ingredients, we do judge people by what food they like and eat. Just look at us, for people from our part of the world, the modest and simple man might stick to his healthy set of rice and vegetables while a diet freak will go for his daily protein enriched fish and egg whites. And have we never questioned families who can afford a fish meal every other night. But the most fun part, I guess, is in spotting the true colors of a person by looking at his fridge; instant personality indicator, if not anything else. We are a bunch of judgmental tale-tellers, we cannot help it, we judge a person who eats everything, we judge someone who doesn’t like certain food, and we judge someone with a vast knowledge of food varieties as well-travelled or probably rich. We are impressed with people who have an adventurous taste bud and who knows what food to order in a restaurant and when. To what use, maybe none, but indeed entertaining I must say.
But in all these, it is a waste of life, if we cannot enjoy our food I believe. And we sometimes do not give a lot of thought to something as simple as a meal but as a wise old friend once said “there’s no better last dying wish but that of a perfect meal”. And that my dear friends, shows what Food means to us ,much more than sustenance, much more than just a necessity.
(Oscar Wilde once said: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one`s own relations.” Touché)