The meaning of food
The existence and purpose of food is about much more than hunger: evolution has altered it significantly. What was once merely a necessary, life-sustaining substance now permeates and affects most areas of our lives. Today, this fundamental essential now defines us.
What we choose to eat demonstrates our power and status. It reflects our passions, our philosophies, our relationships and our health. It makes some people rich and famous and reduces others to wretchedness and despair. It is involved in practically every area of our lives from sex and religion to politics and big business. Food is both a powerful weapon and a leisure industry.
Pleasure, fashion and big business
The marketing behind the preparation of food trends has created a wealthy industry, with companies employing psychological experts who recommend ways of tapping into consumers’ aspirations.
Persuasive methods to get consumers to buy more are now a dedicated industry. Experts use basics such as the strategic positioning of food in the aisles and waft the aroma of baking bread in doorways, typifying the kind of subliminal tactics used to entice people into a store.
Reflecting changes in the cultural climate, food has become a passion, a leisure activity to be seriously enjoyed. In the absence of shortages, and in an era of instant availability, more food can be served and eaten in less time than ever before.
There are countless cookbooks and television programmes on food: how to cook it, what to drink with it: just as the classic anorexic plies their family with food, so viewers metaphorically devour such programmes.
The [Americans] ‘graze’ all day long and food is available 24 hours a day. The cook who hovered over a hot stove for hours is an image of the past: now food can be thawed out from a freezer and micro waved in seconds. No one needs wait.
Eating out is perceived as an enormously pleasurable experience and well-known chefs have entered the ranks of the rich and famous. Fashionable restaurants are packed. Menus are lyrical, with a profusion of previously unheard of ingredients now commonplace.
The food industry has profited from the pleasure factor, as have cookery writers and food retailers. There are subtle spin-offs. When an accredited TV celebrity cook such as Delia Smith aligns her name to a major retailer, she is actually awarding a seal of approval.
When she recommends specific cooking utensils to viewers, profits soar. Equally, a TV cook concocting a recipe with twenty ingredients, however esoteric, is actually showing good business sense, turning the average household cook into a heavyweight consumer.
Food and power
Food refusal creates its own power structure. Suffragettes used it as a weapon, by refusing it when they were jailed, as did the IRA’s Bobby Sands whose hunger strike meant he literally died for his cause.
Children learn in infancy that refusing food can be an emotional weapon, which attracts attention: mothers offer it profusely, literally feeding their children with love.
Clinics treating teenagers suffering from eating disorders are crowded with patients for whom food has become a tragic new power. A bewildered teenager may see food as the only area of their life they have any control over. Equally, the helplessness experienced by those parents whose child is dying from anorexia, is a reversal of the parent/child power structure.
Refusing food was a powerful path to spiritual enlightenment. Numerous examples exist across all faiths of holy men who believed such abstention cleared the mind bringing greater clarity and spiritual awareness. In virtually all cases, such people wielded great influence over their followers, who in turn, emulated their masters.
Food and status
Food is a symbol of hospitality surrounded by rules of etiquette as to the correct ways of serving it. The first-generation immigrant communities believed a heavily laden table indicated their status in the community, a literal demonstration of conspicuous consumption. The magnificence of the spread, the greater a person’s wealth.
Today, the wealthier social groups have reversed themselves: being overweight from an abundance of food was once a sign of wealth and the very poor were always stick-thin. Now the opposite occurs.
The richer they are, the thinner they want to be, and we see the irony of excellent chefs producing dishes for people who only toy with a sophisticated lettuce leaf. Being thin is almost as important as being young. Anorexic symptoms were described in 16th Century diaries, presenting with the same characteristics as it does today.
However, even further back in history, the Ancient Romans practised their own early form of bulimia, erecting vomitariums for the sole purpose of ejecting the contents of their stomach thus making room to eat more.
Food, fear and emotions
The mind-body impact of food is evident: when someone is ‘in love’, the surplus adrenalin rushing through their system has an anorexic affect on their appetite. The same affect comes about at times of great stress, such as bereavement and it can become almost impossible to swallow food.
An extreme group of women in America say they don’t eat food at all: one claims she has avoided it for four years and survives on liquids alone. But why? The fact that she considers this even necessary says so much about her perception of food.
You can be addicted to eating food, or addicted to denying it, even though it is arguably so essential to life. Often the subject of the addiction, the food, is not necessarily relevant, only what it represents.
Food is a sedative, a soporific and therefore a comforter. When a person feels tired or depressed, they instinctively turn to food because it dampens down sensitivity.
People, who binge then starve, do so knowingly: their inner or private logic overriding their common sense. This is sometimes called ‘ox-hunger’ when vast quantities are consumed, well past any conscious levels of hunger and often in spite of overwhelming feelings of being full. They hate themselves afterwards and wish they could stop.
They know logically, that if they want to stop, all they have to do is stop. So why can they not? This is their addiction, to be out of control and no longer in charge of their own behaviour, but also to be drawn to denying the object of their addiction.
Food and fat
Food and body-fat are inextricably linked. Society elevates those who weigh the least and few believe those who claim to be happy and fat. Role models such as film actresses and
Supermodels are very thin, so are seen as winners, thus relegating the overweight to losers – objects of pity.
Fashionable clothes look better on slim people than large people. The dilemma is that while food has become a pleasurable pastime, eating itself is the antithesis of desired slimness.
The diet industry does well and does even better when its products fail: their customers return repeatedly. It would not work in any other line of retailing but slimmer’s suspend belief and deceive themselves: desperately accept at face value anything a diet product offers. This is because they also suspend common sense.
For some, eating induces guilt while starving evokes piety. Eating becomes greedy, food becomes ‘bad’ and denying it is therefore ‘good.’ Women wake up promising themselves a ‘good’ day and have a list of acceptable foods. If they succumb to unacceptable food, this becomes a ‘bad’ day.
Many use diuretics or laxatives to excess as a quick fix to redress the balance. Others progress to eating disorders that are more serious. More males are joining these statistics: more young females are being drawn into this syndrome from age groups as low as eight years old.
If any of this relates to you, even a small section, it’s time to get off this roller coaster right now. If your attitude to food is out of proportion, now is the time to get it sorted, make the emphasis on food ‘right size’ and not allow it to dominate your life, undermine your
Self-esteem, create guilt and self-hate. Just think how good it would be to get back to normal.
Finally, a question to clients who do not wish to compromise. (Adjust for males, e.g, with manboobs or without?)
Would you be happier going to a party as a size 16 or as a size 12?’
There’s no denying the truth – being a size 12 would be a lot better.
‘There you are, then. You have to make compromises