The Psychology of Food

As we enter the holidays, on harvesting maximum pleasure from eating and cooking

Posted Nov 15, 2015

Pulaw, CC 2.0
Source: Pulaw, CC 2.0

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with food. The hate usually relates to its calories: "A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips."

This article focuses on the love. Indeed, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, "There is no sincerer love than the love of food."

Why food is love

Food is primal.  It's a core need, having been provided to us from before our Day One.

It harkens fond memories.  Even if we were abused as a child, most of us have fond memories of mom (or dad) serving dinner. Think back to your fave dish--mine was matzo brei with Log Cabin syrup. Or of going out to your favorite restaurant. Even in a troubled household, food can be balming. And many of our most romantic dates were dinners.

Food is maximally mutisensory.  Food piques all five senses. Take, for example, that upcoming Thanksgiving turkey. Just picture it in your mind. Is it not visually warming? Now think of the smell? Now hear the slightly crispy skin crunch as you bite in. Feel the slightly greasy skin and firmer meat against your tongue. And, of course, think of how it--especially if it's not overcooked--tastes, especially with a bit of gravy and stuffing. (Damn those calories.)

Food is comfort.  There's comfort food but no comfort drink, car, or anything else. Think about your comfort foods: Perhaps it's soup? Mac and cheese? Meatloaf? Fried chicken and biscuits? Meatballs and spaghetti? Apple pie? Bagels and lox? Kale salad? (not)

Being cooked for is nurturant.  Perhaps I'm just speaking for myself but when my wife  cooks, I feel loved. I can't be alone if there's an aphorism, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

That explains a lot

So is it any surprise that people tend to hang out in the kitchen, whether it's family members or guests? My wife and I have a lovely living room but guests immediately gravitate to the breakfast bar facing the kitchen. And when we explicitly ask guests if they'd rather go to the living room or hang out at that breakfast bar, they always choose the latter. The kitchen is homey; the living room is stuffy.

And is it any surprise that many people with even a bit of culinary talent like to cook, especially for others---even if, during meal preparation, s/he ends up "sampling" more calories than s/he wished?

Dispensation from restraint?

So as we enter the holiday season, can we justify resisting those calls for restrained eating and, instead, at least on Thanksgiving, feel the love?

Or should we remember, "A moment of the lips, a lifetime on the hips"...except for kale salad?

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.