The wonderful, complicated, tragic truth about food.

In May, I wrote a post entitled “Food is complicated.” It was sort of a follow-up post to my big confession regarding my battle with an eating disorder in college.

Well, I wanted to add some more depth to the complicated issue of food. Primarily, the emotions tied to it.

food is complicated dialogue discussion

Tonight, I cried.

While they doesn’t seem like a major feat, for me it is. You see, I’m a bottler. While I’ve never had a problem showing positive emotions, sadness and anger used to get bottled severely and then explode in unhealthy manners. (And sometimes I’d shut those feelings up with food. Healthy? No, but that’s how I rolled. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find your way back up.)

Fast forward to today. I’ve worked hard to be in a more “emotionally healthy” place. I’ve got my eating disorder in check. I’ve actually learned how to CRY when I’m upset, or sad, or remarkably happy, instead of shoving those feelings down to a dark place I tend to ignore.

But, what was I crying about?

I made supper for Nightwolf. I made some chicken breast and veggies (which he abstained from, of course) and potato pancakes. My mama used to make potato pancakes for me and my siblings growing up. And cooking them properly is a bit of a science. I remember evenings in the warm glow of the kitchen, with dusk falling over the countryside, watching her patty and perfectly crisp those potato pancakes.

It took years for me to learn how to get potato pancakes properly crispy without burning them.

And here I was, making these potato pancakes my Mama taught me to make. And her Mama, my Nonnie, taught her to make them. And I made them damn-near perfect, and Nightwolf cleaned his plate. (That’s a big deal.)

I cried because cooking that food just like my Mama had taught me made me miss her a little bit. And I was proud that I did it right.  And I was touched that I got to share that special comfort food with someone I love very much. And, because I’m now well aware of the fact that crying is perfectly healthy.

This got me thinking, though.

Food is irrevocably tied to our emotions. Something so simple as pan-frying leftover mashed potatoes for my boyfriend gave me some pretty intense nostalgia.

Even if I’m not eating my feelings anymore (peace out, unhealthy habits!), I can’t ignore how sentimental food can be.

So, if memories of food can draw such emotion for me, is it surprising that so many people make their food decisions based on emotion, rather than science?

Just look at the very hot climate of food dialogue happening in our world today.

Emotions run high.

Everyone has an opinion, and very few of those opinions are fueled by research in science, economics, or sociology. The wonderful, complicated, tragic truth about food is that it’s an emotional topic, one that brings out the best and worst in people.

What I ask in all of this, is that no matter where you fit in the food system, have that dialogue respectfully. Understand that food is deeply sentimental and deeply emotional. Maybe the sheer magnitude of feelings I deal with on a daily basis has made me excessively empathetic, but this revelation has added a bit more perspective for me.

I’m not saying we have to agree.

I’m not saying that the grain farmer in rural Indiana needs to agree with the anti-GMO activist in downtown NYC. The vegan and the rancher do not need to see eye-to-eye on the ethics of meat consumption. But both sides of the party need to appreciate the deep emotion attached to food.

Whether you raise it, or “just” eat it, enter the dialogue with a kind spirit. While I can’t always guarantee the other side will be as compassionate, we must all recognize why food is such a volatile issue right now: because everyone single one of us has some emotional attachment. It’s way more than just nutrition or sustenance. It’s more than just producing a resource.

It’s recipes and techniques handed down over generations. It’s grandparents, parents and children tending the earth together as a team, putting in long hours to produce what we eat. It’s family meals full of warmth and love as the busy world continues to spin out of control just beyond the dining room. It’s a parent lovingly fixing that comfort food for their child, or that child fondly remembering the love attached to it. It’s the joy of a young couple creating new food traditions together.

The wonderful, complicated, tragic truth about food is that it is an emotionally-charged topic.

It complicates the logical, scientific conversations we need to be having about food. But, after a little bit of thought, at least now I can “get” why so many people are so passionate about it (regardless of their actual stance on the issue).

What advice do you have for discussing the complicated issues of food production in North America? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on emotion and food? Let me know! I’d love your thoughts!


3 thoughts on “The wonderful, complicated, tragic truth about food.

  1. You’re absolutely right. Food (and the choices involved in choosing it) is incredibly emotional.
    Last fall I was at a meeting about local food and the facilitator of the meeting stated “we can all agree on food”. As all the other attendees nodded in agreement, I tried to point out that the only guaranteed agreement was that we all needed to eat food. (needless to say, I didn’t last long on that committee…lol)
    When it comes to discussing food production, we need to stop with all the fearmongering and dismissing the “other side” and come together in rational conversation. Here’s hoping that happens, but I have my doubts.
    Oh, btw, I really liked the mental image of you frying potato pancakes (perfectly) for your dear one and remembering the women who came before frying potato pancakes for their dear ones. Food memories are the best.

    • Barbara, thanks so much for your comment! There’s just so much depth to the conversation, it’s really valuable to be aware of the different perspectives (even if we don’t agree with them).

      And thank you for your kind words — those potato pancakes are such a comfort food, it feels wonderful to share them with my boyfriend this way.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate it!

  2. I’m not sure what advice I would give for discussing the issues of food production in North America because it is a very controversial issue, and I do not think that there is any type of simple answer. On the other hand, I agree with you completely that food is emotional. My mom used to cater before she became a teacher, and some of my favorite moments growing up (and still today) are helping to cook meals with her and learning some of the little tricks to cooking and baking that she picked up. I will always hold those moments special in my heart because they helped make me the person I am today.

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