soul food

What is the Meaning of Soul Food?

Connecting with Food – Episode 1

Last week, I watched tears pour down my father-in-law’s eyes as he was eating his food. This is a regular phenomenon with him. Whenever I have expressed my curiosity over this, my husband had come back with a very interesting, “That’s how it is,” answer to my question. But last week, because my curiosity had gotten the better of me, and because he was the only other person at the table, I posed the same question to my son.

“Why does your grandfather become so emotional over food?”

The reply was lightning quick. “Because he wants it.”

I got back to my friend with this new-found information, and she connected it to her own grandfather’s nose-watering act whenever he ate.

Then, I began observing a pattern with my father-in-law. Every time, he ate something that he felt was tasty, his eyes would begin to water. Sweets have always been my father-in-law’s soft spot when it comes to food. He loves to dig into every Indian sweet, chocolates, pastries, and always drinks coffee, not for the caffeine, but for the sugar in it.

There is a pattern out there

When I began to understand my father-in-law’s affection for food, I began to realize the pattern around me, and within me. I have always hated sharing the food that I want. A taste for onions, is something that my brother and I have in common. I spent my childhood getting angry over his abuse of my want. And there was this one time when I had ordered food from a restaurant for myself, but my husband’s nephews got to it first. I hated it, until I realized that I was supposed to behave like an adult.

My son has this habit of asking what is on the menu, and I can see his curiosity light up when I show him the lunch and snacks that have been packed for school.

We all find satisfaction in eating specific foods, and begin to crave those foods in particular. This craving begins in childhood and keeps evolving through adulthood. We will prefer certain fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, or grains over others.

So how do we develop this craving?

The moment food touches our taste buds, the nerves in the tongue get activated, and begin to send information about the food to the brain. The brain processes this information and sends back instructions on how to understand the food. It is then that we decide that a particular food is sweet, salty, spoilt or fresh and so on. Now, the next question that we are going to pose to ourselves is that…

How does the brain know all this?

The brain needs information to give its opinion on it, and we are all constantly giving information to our brain. The information gathering begins in early childhood when we observe our parents and others around us.

Imagine yourself as a toddler. You are watching your family eat at the dinner table. What are the different things that you are seeing? You are watching them eat, watching what they eat, and you are also watching their reaction to whatever it is that they are eating.

Whatever you are watching is the information that you are sending to your brain. If your family likes the food, then your brain connects the food to the “like” reaction. These incidents get stored in your long-term memory, and the next time you see the same food, you begin to crave it because your brain has associated the food to the reaction, and has sent you the instruction to like the food. This is a pattern that keeps repeating itself throughout your lifetime.

What is it about people that makes us like food?

I have never liked pizza. Even when my friends gorged on it before me or when my husband gorged on it during our first date. I grew to accept it, and like it as I watched my husband eat it regularly. My brain connected pizza to my husband and attached it to something very interesting. Family. And we all love family. So, we love to eat what the people we love, love to eat. While I don’t like everything my husband eats, my acceptance of pizza is my weird declaration of love towards my husband.

The factory in which my father used to work fed their employees heartily. It was the full works, for every meal. The factory churned in profits year after year, but soon after the management decided to cut costs on the food, their downfall began. It was the same case with the factory my father-in-law worked in. This is a pattern that can be observed in all work places that feed their employees.

We all like to finish a good day’s work with a good meal

Our brain associates good work with good food, with food being the reward for work well done. The better we work, the better we eat, and the better we eat, the better we work.

My father-in-law succumbs to the temptation of food, because it brings back memories of childhood, family and mother. Everyone’s first association with food is mother, and food itself comes from the Earth. The food that we eat connects all of us together as one to this mother, the greatest mother of them all.

And that is why Food feeds the Soul.

Are we done?
Not yet. My next question is – how do we make connections with food?

But before we do that, let’s try and answer these questions;
• What are your favorite foods now?
• List out your favourite foods from childhood?
• Has your preference for certain foods changed? Or have they stayed the same?
• If they changed, when did it the change happen?
• Why did the change happen?


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