Words by Emily Fuller
Food – what a practical contradiction it can be. Yes, in it’s frankest form, it is a human necessity, one in which we rely on for basic survival. Yet, the conceptions surrounding food create a melting pot of so many other cultural, social and philosophical complexities of which we often struggle to unpack. In western culture particularly, the significance of food becomes prisoner to the endless social discourses – often bound up by notions of guilt and shame as we are ingrained to prioritise maintaining a ‘healthy’ or ‘attractive’ physique rather than embracing the physical, social and cultural pleasures of food. Some of us are convinced that food serves a primary purpose for survival, thus we tell ourselves at every moment of (realistically human) temptation: you don’t need the goddamn piece of cake. Ironically, this forces the question: Are you really engaging in mindful eating if it is accompanied by guilt and self-loathing? Is nutritious food truly nourishing for your being if it fails to bring you joy? Some of us hate to love food, and what a sad paradox that is.
For years I’ve struggled with my love-hate relationship with food, despite the ‘foodie’ label I proudly place upon myself now. Forms of disordered eating in my younger years tormented me. Anything relating to food became an internal vacuum, inhaling any minute insecurity and binding them to every thought I had associated with food and eating, establishing a disastrous union that could only lead to the internal destruction of a teenage girl. I was governed by my obsessiveness, as I absolutely fixated on anything I placed in my body. Guilt riddled me, crawling across my skin for hours on end after I would consume anything that wasn’t deemed to be acceptably ‘healthy’. After struggling to suppress my interest with food, cooking and baking blossomed into passions of mine as I would take so much pleasure crafting creations for my friends and family. This was the significant step in building my healthy relationship with food, and I quickly began to address all of the social and cultural pressures that were suffocating me, amplifying my insecurities and negative body image.
Upon reflection today, I do not think I have ever had a more positive connection with what I eat and I think I have to thank my travelling experiences for that. Wandering all over the world has consummated a perfectly wholesome mergence of two passions of mine: travel and food. I have learnt that for myself, these two things are completely inseparable, inextricably glued together by a love of culture. My travels have pried open an understanding of food which delves much deeper than what I have ever appreciated. Food is an immersive cultural experience in which has completely enriched my understanding for various cultures and lifestyles around the world. Through my love of eating and travel, I have met Omas in Vienna who bake decadent cakes for their locals as if it’s religious ritual, taking so much care in the finest of details. I met a fascinating woman at the local farmer’s market in Zagreb, whose eyes illuminated when I asked her about her produce, exhibiting nothing but pride for her job of growing and supplying deliciously fresh food. I made sure to devour gelato from the little hole-in-the-wall places, always asking if the local owner had studied the art of gelato-making before opening their business – in which all of them had done so and were extraordinarily knowledgeable on what it takes to create the fluffiest mounds of creamy goodness. You quickly realise that you gain a wider insight into the intricacies of a particular culture by connecting to the locals, sharing in a communal love and respect for their food and ultimately, their identity.
Through travelling, I have become acutely aware of just how powerful food can be to the mind. The practice of eating engages with all five of our senses in extraordinary ways. We taste what we consume on the tips of our tongues, taking enjoyment in the tingling sensations of sweet, sour or spicy flavours. The aromatic perfumes of our food tickle at our nostrils. Our eyes absorb the vibrancies of colour masterfully laid out on the plate before us. We feel the vastness of texture, and our ears prick up at the sizzling sounds of a pan. Hence, the very nature of consuming food heightens our state of being and awareness, which in turn fosters the creation of vivid memories. Whilst travelling, I have learnt to be appreciative of this as an incredible gift – upon reflection of where I have explored and delved into, my mind gravitates towards the sensory experiences associated with such a memory and most often it is related to an incredible meal I have shamelessly devoured in that particular place.
And so, the concept of food is defined by infinite cultural, social and personal opportunity and fulfilment. It is an endless abyss in which we can jump down into and explore, to satisfy our hunger, curiosity or temptations. It holds the power to shape our experience and memories, and even our emotional state of being. It is the bridge between the individual and the community, whether that be locally or on a global scale. The next time you find yourself subconsciously shaming yourself for overindulging in food, maybe you should destroy these western discourses by considering just how important a role it can serve in enhancing this wonderful life of your’s and your social and cultural experiences. And with this, I will finish off here with a quote by one of my favourite heroines of food culture and culinary experience:
“People who love to eat are always the best people” – Julia Child
Oh, and always remember to eat that goddamn piece of cake.
Art by Abwatercolours