This past year I have developed a fascination with cooking. It seemed to be the most logical step after recognizing my fascination for eating. Actually, if I’m being logical, cooking comes first. But in examining my latest fascination under the lens of psychology, as I’m sure everyone is in the practice of doing, I have discovered some deeper implications that others may find interesting.
Food defines culture
It is biological fact that we need food to stay alive. It is how we get that nourishment that separates us from other creatures. Food is more than biological necessity for human beings. We celebrate it, study its origin and preparatory practices; we have entire television networks dedicated to it. It marks significant moments in our lives, such that I remember to this day that on my first date with my boyfriend I had ravioli and he had pasta with shrimp and chicken. We shove cake in each other’s faces when we make lifelong marriage commitments and then inevitably ingest potato salad when someone dies. I have never been to a baby shower where I didn’t eat some kind of pink jell-o salad. In fact, I actually call that pink stuff “baby shower food”. If food had no significance beyond its evolutionary necessity, then we would hardly complain so much about cafeteria food and my iPhone app “Yelp” would not contain such vicious and fiery opinions about local restaurants. If you want to turn your average citizen into Gordon Ramsey, feed him a bad slice of pizza in New York City, which according to Yelp, exists in abundance. If a shady pizza joint goes up in flames in New York City, the first place I’d start looking for arsonists would be the Yelp reviewers. The point is that although food is a necessity to stay alive, it means much, much more to us than that. Doubtful still? Mispronounce “gnocchi” in the presence of a proud Italian woman and then proceed to run for your life.
Food equalizes us
If a bowl of hot soup and warm bread doesn’t make you feel better on a cold, rainy day, I hate to break this to you, but it’s possible you are not a human being. I realize this is a terrible way to find out, but the truth is simple: food is a great equalizer. Regardless of societal position, race, religion or creed, if you’re offered a glass of ice water on a hot summer afternoon, you’ll take it. Few things in life level the ground of our human existence like food. Bathroom stories do too, but we can save that for another blog. Our need for food and our desire for good food makes us human, which of course makes us alike (unless you don’t like soup). We may vary in our tastes and preferences, but we all have birthday cakes as sure as we all have birthdays. If I were an idealist, I’d say that when we are reminded of the things that make us alike rather than the things that make us different, respect becomes greater and conflict becomes less. Perhaps when I cook, I am participating in an equalizing force. When I make cupcakes, I am bringing about just the smallest bit of leveling in a world that is anything but leveled.
Food empowers us
When I can’t control a single thing about the world around me, I can make a pot roast. When we’re little, life yields what we put into it. Good behavior yields cookies; bad behavior yields spankings. Today, I would love a system like that, when I could ensure outcomes beyond a shadow of a doubt. But alas, as we all know, our good efforts do not necessarily translate into good will for us. Even our best efforts can sometimes fail, and things do not turn out as we intended. But when I step into my kitchen, I step into a world that fits neatly inside of my control. A cup and a half of oatmeal mixes with flour, butter, brown sugar and baking soda to yield a crust for a cranberry cheesecake tart, lentils and hot water and cooking wine make soup, and flour plus yeast rises to make bread. When I can’t do anything else, I can brew a cup of tea or bake chicken. I’m no fool. I realize the world is anything but mine to control. I also know that instant gratification is about as real as the tooth fairy and unicorns, but I do rather enjoy the feeling of putting something in the oven and having it to eat thirty minutes later. It’s nice to have something that works every time, isn’t it?
Hopefully you are satisfied with my explanation for my recent fascination with measurements and ingredients and oven timers. This will also explain why I have been adding recipe blogs along with my 30-day challenge. Try a few, if you feel so inclined, and sit back and smell humanity equalizing all around you. Or just enjoy the bread.