What is Food?

Gavin WrenFood Education, Food Opinion Pieces, The World of Food

Apples oranges bananas and pears

Duh, it’s obvious, innit, it’s the stuff you put in yer cake’ole.

In a physical sense, yes, that is correct, food is the stuff we put in our mouths, masticate, then swallow. Our body extracts various nutrients and energy sources and I don’t need to tell you what happens after that.

What does food mean?

What if we considered food on a different level from the physical, nourishing and calorific one, what does food mean to the people of the world, beyond energy and nutrition? What joy or sadness does it bring? What political, professional or domestic issues does it create? How do the 7,400,000,000 people on this planet manage to get enough of that food ‘stuff’ into their gobs every single day of their lives, if they’re lucky? How is it possible that there’s enough food in the world to provide at least one meal a day to such a ridiculously large number of people as 7.4 billion mouths, 365 days a year?

Writing a food blog.

Over the two years of writing this blog I’ve discovered a few things about how I perceive food. The most starting realisation is that my perception of food is not shaped by the latest recipe fads, or hot new trends in London street food. I’m not even bothered about how I grow or monetise my blog, I have gained far more personal growth from my blog by NOT doing those things than if I had relentlessly pursued an audience or money. I get a lot more enjoyment from writing about how I feel about food and the world than anything else on my blog.

Food connects with me on an abstract level of existential fulfilment which is utterly removed from foodie trends and culture.

Attachment theories.

When babies are young, their mother or caregiver provides everything for them; food, nutrition, hydration, cleaning and emotional interaction, all of which are vital for human growth. Without the presence of this ‘mother’ figure, the baby would die. There’s a theory that the baby knows this and as a result, the physical presence of the caregiver feels like a life or death situation for the baby. If the caregiver is missing, the baby can perceive it as a deadly situation, too young to understand that mummmy has gone to the loo for a minute.

That’s how I feel about food. I understand that a lack of food is also deadly for adults, but I’ve been born into a world where food is abundantly available on every street corner and it’s always been available to me. Food carries an additional emotional burden for me, as if it’s presence and co-ordination transcends what’s actually on the plate and taps into a deeper core of insecurity within me.

The bloody shopping list.

A great example is my weekly-or-so shop. Every day I feed myself, as I’m sure you do, unless someone does it for you. I have also written, made, photographed and published well over 100 unique recipes of my own creation, so it would be quite reasonable to assume that I find planning meals, shopping and cooking a breeze. Not at all. Planning, writing and ordering a shopping list is one of the most acutely stressful things that I have to engage with on a regular basis. I don’t like waste, so make every effort to only order what I need and beyond fruit skins and vegetable peels, I throw out almost zero food except for those straggling half-empty packs of leftover herbs.

However, the actual thought of trying to work out what I need for the coming week fills me with sheer terror and it’s not a fear of having a few carrots left over. I’ve talked in the past about dreams of living in a kitchen filled abundantly with food that somebody else has ordered, so that I could play and eat with all sorts of different foods. I wonder if this fantasy appeals because it would mean I could avoid facing the anxiety of dealing with a shopping list. I’m nervous even talking about it.

Food… Policy?

I’m pondering these questions over what food means to me because I enrolled at City, University of London last week as a postgraduate student, studying a Masters in Food Policy. It’s a unique course, the only one of it’s kind in the world. The first lecture is today and we’ve all been asked to stand up and explain what ‘Food Policy’ means us. I appear to truncate that title to merely ‘Food’, to me it is the interaction of food with the enormous number of humans on the planet which really intrigues me, it’s the perception of food and our psychological attachment to it which really gets my interest. Food Policy is the best course I could find that deals with this existential issue of understanding how and why feeding the world is so complex.

The course runs for two years, during that time I will devote more space on my blog to writing about the subjects and topics which the course covers. There is voluminous amounts of reading to take care of, so I will try and translate some of that into more simplistic, coffee-break-sized pieces for you, because frankly, I find most of it damn confusing and complex, so it will be good to try and translate some of it.

Gavin


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