By Bill Palladino
Food, of its nature, is a social agent. What we eat, where we eat, and with whom help to define our identities as people. Show me these three things, and I will describe for you with some accuracy, your age, cultural origins and social strata. There may come a time in the future where you are measured by these truths.
Many of the most important archeological discoveries in history have unearthed the remnants of food. Physical evidence of what was eaten, when and where has also helped us to understand the origins of our nutrition and the role food has played in shaping society. Archeology also teaches us that sharing food has played an important function in communities stretching back millennia. All meaningful gatherings of people, whether around a campfire, at the kitchen table, at large celebrations or on battlefields involve the sharing of food.
“The act of growing, preparing, and serving food for others is one of the most intimate acts we can perform in public.”
This communal process proves itself to be more than a convenience of time and circumstance. The act of growing, preparing, and serving food for others is one of the most intimate acts we can perform in public. This kind of intimacy needn’t be what we know as sensual, though it can serve that purpose too. It is, instead, meant in its broadest terms, suggesting closeness, trust, and familial regard. Sharing food serves a significant social benefit, bringing us together in groups—small and large—acting to soften the protective walls we build around our private selves.
We’ve all had the experience of intimate food sharing. Imagine the last time you fed an infant with a tiny spoon while you held them in your arms, or when you presented a freshly cut apple slice to your partner and they gently took it from you with their lips. Inarguably, these are moments of intimacy. Our food can be a natural stimulus that allows us to open up our hearts and be closer to others.
Research on this subject proved a bit disappointing, as the term “food and intimacy” resulted in many references to eating disorders. What’s happened to the historical, positive nature of food intimacy? Unfortunately, our society is on a constant mission to disavow it. And let’s face it; a lot of the food we eat today is barely worthy of intimacy or even recollection.
Will the archeologists of the future unearth our gathering places and come to the conclusion that our food was of such a quality that it brought us together in intimate ways, helping to shape our culture? Or will they comment on the uninteresting nature of the featureless calories we consumed sitting alone with our smartphones?
While bodies crave food, to quote author Erwin McManus, “our souls crave intimacy.”
Food is more than a way to provide fuel for our daily activities. While bodies crave food, to quote author Erwin McManus, “our souls crave intimacy.” There is a deep connection between these two ideas and at least three times a day we are offered the opportunity to allow one to serve the other. Let us mindfully choose good food that opens our hearts and serves our souls, marking this place in time as one of significance for future generations and ourselves.
Bill Palladino is CEO of Taste the Local Difference. This essay was originally published as part of the Agriculture Forum in the January 21, 2017, edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper. See the link below to view the piece on their website.