The other week I was driving back from a conference I attended, and I decided to stop off for some frozen custard to bring home. Since this is Wisconsin, it’s not difficult to find a Culver’s, which I did and picked up a gallon of vanilla. Stopping for custard got me thinking about two very different views when it comes to food.
In recent years I’ve read a few articles that berate parents for giving their children food items as a reward for a job well done. The ideas didn’t stop there, either; it was shameful for companies to honor employees with food. Schools shouldn’t pass out goodies for fun events.
The views expressed in the articles blamed food rewards for the obesity epidemic that crept up on the country and that it taught children that food was a substitute for love. There are others that say using food as a reward, or denied for punishment, place value on the food. Just Google it – there a lot of articles. But, how sad to live in a world where sharing or giving food to another in praise or celebration is so trivialized.
In August of 2012, I found out I had to stop eating all the delicious gluten forever. Growing up in a home where cookies and bars were always at hand besides being a person who loved baking, including sourdough bread for which I had my own starter, this was a major kick to the groin. I loved bread-baking day. When Mr. Muse came home after work, the bread was typically cool enough to slice without collapsing into a sad mockery of a loaf, and we’d end up having fresh bread and butter for dinner. My mom makes some of the best cinnamon rolls and a chocolate chip blondie called “Congo Bars.” Besides bread, I often made my sister memorable cakes for her birthdays – one year I made her a cat and another a rabbit. While I don’t recall having food given as a reward or taken away as punishment, food is something that is visceral and real, intertwined with memories.
Some of those memories are of meals around the folding tables in my Great Aunt and Uncle’s garage as the clock approached midnight during hay baling season. We were a filthy, dusty, dirty crew (except our hands… you gotta wash up before supper) who had spent the day doing back-breaking work. We were famished, exhausted, and yet the laughs kept coming. Age didn’t matter when it came to discussions, or all of the good-natured teasing, which happened around those tables with extended family and my Aunt and Uncle’s neighbors. And when dessert was brought out, there was always a collective, full-bellied sigh, and we still all dug into the pies made with fresh strawberries or cakes with sweet frosting. And if it was lemon meringue, I always peeled it off and put it on my Uncle’s plate, because he liked it and I didn’t.
With the removal of all-things-gluten from my diet, my ability to sit down and eat how I’d always done it was a thing of the past. Now, memories such as those above cause me to feel a loss, one to my very core because food is love. Sitting around that table at midnight eating a meal with my cousins or waking up to the scent of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls on the counter, are things that I won’t ever experience again.
So now, over four years later after having to change my eating ways, food is still a way to express love for friends and family, it’s just a little more complicated. Maybe a lot. But, let’s get back to the custard.
As I was thinking about the food is love theory and all of the controversy therein, I thought about how when Homo sapiens was still hunting and gathering out on the plains, provision of food wasn’t love, it was survival. We’ve come a long way since then as far as availability of food*, but our mental Little Rex still is out there hunting and gathering, because having food means survival. And if you can provide for your family, you are showing your love.
It isn’t just sharing a meal with familiar people either – sharing a meal with strangers brings people together, too; more when you’ve also spent time with these people working toward a common goal or achievement. When you’re traveling and are invited to partake of a meal at someone’s home, these are food moments that make memories.
Mr. Muse and I are not fancy folks. We’re not coming back to Chez Muse with caviar and champagne, but once in a while one of us surprises the other with what we call a “share treat.” It might be a candy bar, a bottle of soda, or, in the case of the other week, it could be a quart of frozen vanilla custard. Coming home with a “share treat” is the present-day equivalent of coming back to the cave with an antelope.
*Let’s not forget that there are still people out there for whom daily hunting and gathering is still what needs to be done for them to survive. Read about food instability here.