Food Glorious Food

foodWhat is a foodie or a foodist? defines these terms as a collective of like-minded food worshipers that breathe and sleep in order to eat and drink.  We can all appreciate this classification, because we all love food, but at what point in history did those that have an unabashed love of food become so unusual that it was necessary to separate them out with a specific designation.  It could be said that everyone was a foodie, or a foodist, for most of human history, in that they would eat whatever they could get their hands on.  It has been said, as a matter of fact, that for most of human history food was so rare that we evolved a need to gorge ourselves to prepare for the coming dry spells when food may not have been as available.  Science and technology have made scarcity a thing of the past, but we still feel a need to gorge, because we still love food in a manner that is considered unhealthy by some.  We feel guilty about this now, perhaps because we don’t need to gorge, but that guilt hasn’t slowed us, it’s just made us feel guilty about talking about it so much. Thus, the birth of the designation foodie, or foodist, to describe those that don’t feel the need to qualify their love of food.

It should be noted that most foodists and foodies don’t necessarily eat more than the average person, but when they do eat they’re very selective about what they put in their body.  Some have said that foodies are so vocal about their preferences that they come off as snobs that fail to recognize the privileges that modern science and technology have afforded in their chosen lifestyle.  Some have said that foodies use their “healthier” lifestyle choices as a hammer of superiority against anyone that doesn’t follow their dietary codes. Some have said that these foodies approach you with a “you live your life, and I’ll live mine” motto, but that their actions suggest that this is anything but the case with them.

For the rest of the non-foodie population, love of food is a guilty conceit that we conceal for fear of being viewed as gluttonous slobs.  Most people don’t love food so much that they close their eyes when they eat to savor the initial act of digestion as it sends those succulent, savory messages to their brain.  Most people won’t take the time to let a piece of food lay on all of the quarters of their mouth for ultimate sensory excitation.  Most people won’t inhale and exhale the flavor of their food for just a moment before allowing it into the second stage of digestion.  Most people won’t nix the first seven choices of a restaurant, based on the fact that when you reach a certain age you’re only permitted one meal a day, and that meal has to be special, different, or at least somewhat memorable.  It’s not considered unseemly to feel this way about food, most of the times, it’s just considered odd.  Most non-foodies, if you speak with them on this level, will tell you that eating is just an activity one must endure to sustain life.

It makes normal people feel more normal to say they don’t share your love of food.  It makes them feel skinny to say that you’re a bit of a freak for loving food so much.  It makes them feel rational to say it’s just another bodily function. Whether they thoroughly believe this or not, we do know that if a fat person dares to mention how much they love food in general, they become our punch line.  “That’s obvious,” we say with a laugh.  We fear that we can become that punch line if we say that we love a relatively innocuous piece of food on a level that approaches spiritual appreciation, especially if that food is fried and considered generally unhealthy. We know that we would be entering the lion’s den of laughter if we suggest that one great meal is something we can point to in a day where we’ve accomplished nothing else.

It’s a quandary we enter into whenever the subject of food comes up, because we can’t wait to talk about it, but we don’t want to get too excited about it either.  That would make us sound gluttonous.  Yet, food is the event in life that we all share, or that we want to share, and that which we do when we’re bored, and that which gives us comfort when times are bad, and that we would rather die than give up.  Life is not as important as food to most of us, and we see that when overeating threatens to damage our quality of life and we can’t stop, or when someone threatens to take our joy of eating away from us.

“By threatening to feed me intravenously, you are threatening to deprive me of the one joy I have left in life,” my Uncle wrote, through a lawyer, in a letter that threatened to sue his health care facility if they went ahead with their plans to begin feeding him intravenously. I didn’t understand this at first. It’s hard to identify with someone threatening to sue another if they are informed they can’t eat orally, because most of us have never been in that place in life.  Most of us, when told that our life is on the line, will acquiesce to the wishes of our doctors with a sense of fear.

For this reason, and others, it was hard for me to identify with my Uncle in this particular situation.  My first thought was that I had eaten his health care facility’s food, and it was average at best, and if anyone decided to debate me on the merits of that food, I know I could eventually have them concede that, at the very least, it wasn’t worth risking your life over, but they may have added the addendum: “But what food is?”  It’s just food, they may say, and no food I’ve had is so good that I’d rather die than not eat it.  We may joke that some food is so good, it’s to die for, but when push comes to shove we think we could live without eating orally if it meant our life was on the line.  That’s because, my Uncle would challenge, no one’s ever threatened to take it away from you…for the rest of your life.

Imagine that you were my Uncle, for just a moment, and everything in life was taken away from you by your muscular degeneration disease.  Imagine all the places you couldn’t go, imagine that every place you did go had people staring at you, had kids that looked at you like a you were a carnival freak, and imagine that you had coughing fits that made people so uncomfortable that they didn’t want to sit near you.  It was the coughing fits that made the young, minimum wage workers at the health care facility so uncomfortable that they decided to go to the intravenous feedings.  It was the coughing fits that prompted me to ask: “Don’t you see what this is doing to you?” I asked my Uncle after a particularly grueling coughing fit that resulted from oral feeding.  He shrugged.  He had obviously weighed the consequences, and he deemed them acceptable in lieu of the alternative. The alternative involved a probable shortening of his life, but it also involved giving up food: “one joy he had left in life.”  It’s hard for any healthy person to identify with that.

It’s easy to think about giving up oral eating, in the short-term, at a health care facility that serves average food at best, but when you add perspective to it, you realize how much my Uncle would’ve been giving up if he acquiesced to their wishes. He would be giving up the “event status” of life that is normally associated with food. It’s an event to talk about the latest and greatest food you’ve eaten, it’s an event to complain about it, and it supplements just about every event you attend in life.

Do you cherish the popcorn you eat while watching a movie?  Most people don’t.  Most people don’t close their eyes and savor the flavor of movie theater popcorn.  It’s just something you eat while watching a movie.  You don’t put any thought into you.  You don’t value it.  You just eat it.  “I don’t need popcorn to enjoy a movie,” you say.  Now try to imagine the idea that your choice was taken away from you.  You were ordered not to eat it…for the rest of your life. That popcorn, you’ve eaten your whole life without really thinking about it, would take on qualities you can’t imagine in your current status in life.  We’ve all decided to reject certain frivolities in life, while on a short-term diet, but most of us have never been forced to abstain from all oral eating for the rest of our lives.

How miserable would it be to attend a baseball game with a friend, when that friend turns to you and offers to buy you one of those average to poor stadium dogs, and you have to tell him that not only would you prefer not to eat such an average to poor hotdog, but that you can’t eat anything orally based on doctor’s orders.  How awful would it then be to tell that concerned friend that you are forbidden from ever eating orally again, if you want to live, when he asks, “How long is this doctor saying that you have to be fed intravenously?”  In the short-term it’s easy, as I said. In the short-term, you may get some sympathy for your plight in life, and you may even enjoy that sympathy in the short-term, but after that rubs off you feel like a carnival freak, a plugged in hospital patient, an outsider in the events of life, and your love of life may be a little diminished over time.

You may want that friend to bravely say “Screw it!” and buy you that dog and feed it to you anyway.  And if that happened that average-to-poor stadium dog would likely taste so good that you would suffer the consequences of that one meal with a smile.  You might even accidentally cry a little right in front of that macho, manly friend that you’ve never been anything less than macho and manly around.  You may want to die that night with that smile on your face as the health care workers lower you onto the pillow, because for at least for one day you felt normal, and you had one comprehensively normal day in your life.

Eating food orally made my Uncle feel a little more human in a manner that only a man stuck in a wheelchair for most of his life can appreciate.  It gave him an event in life that was otherwise lacking in event.  It gave him something to look forward to, something to appreciate or complain about, and something that made him feel more like a cog in the machine of humanity.

It never dawned on me what a central staple food is, or eating is, until my Uncle went through all that.  It never dawned on me how a person, on an enforced diet, could feel left out of humanity, until my Uncle directed his lawyer to draw up that document that released his health care facility from any responsibility for anything that resulted from his oral feedings.

How much of life, involvement, and the events of food would my Uncle have missed out on?  To start the answer, we need only look at our conversations.  How often do we tell others about the incredible rotini salad we had at one specific locale, and how much pride do we take from that person trying it and agreeing with us?  What kind of intricate detail do they give us in their appreciation of the rotini salad?  Or how much status do they gain by not liking it, because “it’s not as good as the rotini salad” at their restaurant of choice?  How many conversations do we have regarding our overall diet?  What’s in certain foods, and what is not in the other, healthier foods that foodies enjoy? How often do we brag that we have the latest and greatest cooking utensils that some other, poor slob has never even heard of?  Want to insult a friend that was kind enough to have a cookout?  If you tell him his conversation topics were relatively boring, you may achieve some degree of insult, but he may tell his wife that you’re no game show host either.  If you tell him his lawn was poorly maintained, his kids are obnoxious, or his wife is not as pretty as he believed, you’ll get some defensive replies, but he can probably tell himself that your insults say more about you than that which you insult.  He’ll have his defenses all lined up in other words.  Insult his choice of food, or his method of preparation, and you’ll hit a sensitivity that may end up in you losing a friend.  That was the event he planned, the labor he engaged in, and that which he used to please his guests.

How often do we notice that something like a ham sandwich just tastes better in a park, at a picnic, with friends and family around us, and kids playing in the park, and dogs running around?  Is it the smell of the outdoors that enhances the flavor of the meat, or is it the fact that we’re outdoors, involved in the event at which the eating occurs?  “Where’d you get this ham?” we naively ask.  “At the supermarket,” they reply.  We may go home with the realization that we forgot how much we love ham, until we eat it, and we realize it’s just ham.  I’ve never seen statistical analysis on our conversations, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that about ten percent of our conversations involve food. This is reflected in our TV shows.  How many TV shows are now inundated with menu items, food preparation, and the warnings of unhealthy food?  We used to have a food preparation break in morning news shows once a week.  They proved so popular, that the producers of those shows called for daily segments, until those segments became a staple of morning broadcasts.  It wasn’t long before we had entire shows devoted exclusively to food preparation, and then entire networks.  We’re a nation obsessed with food in ways we won’t admit in polite company, until someone threatens to take it away from us, and it’s then that we realize that we can’t comprehensively enjoy our lives without being a part of the group that’s orally eating food.


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