My earliest memory happened when I was about 2 years old. I was sitting in our hallway, leaning against the wall, and feeling quite frustrated that I couldn’t get these little eggs out of a toy carton.
Of course, they weren’t supposed to come out; they would have been a choking hazard.
But all I knew was that I was pretending to bake, and how was I supposed to do that without proper eggs?
Perhaps that moment was a sneak preview into my later years. Nowadays, I love baking, especially cakes and cookies.
I didn’t realize this love of baking, however, until I went to college. During my junior and senior years, I shared an apartment with two friends, one of whom was a baking genius.
I can’t count how many times our little kitchen was filled with the scents of freshly baked bread or pies. And the more I watched her bake, the more I wanted to try it, too.
Now, I’d baked before. I’d helped my mom with cookies and made the occasional bread with my dad.
But baking in my own kitchen with untested recipes – that was something entirely different. And, not long after that, a desire to bake turned into a desire to cook.
I made all sorts of things – pan-seared salmon, chicken chili, stuffed bell peppers.
At about the same time, I was also taking a human nutrition class. During the day, I would learn about vitamins and minerals, and in the evenings, I would make dinners and desserts that seemed out of place in a college apartment. And, between those two things, I realized something: food is amazing.
That revelation may seem a little obvious. Of course food is amazing, who doesn’t love food? Everyone has a favorite meal, a favorite restaurant. Billions of dollars are dedicated each year to cooking shows and networks. And nothing makes a long day a little better than a tasty treat.
Yes, that is all absolutely true. But it astounded me how much power food really has.
For instance, an article in “Psychology Today” shows that foods high in the amino acid tyrosine can help alleviate depression by contributing to the manufacture of dopamine in the brain. Some foods which are high in tyrosine include almonds and oatmeal.
So, yes, food is more than fuel. As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
But food fulfills so much more than just biological needs. After all, shows such as “Master Chef” aren’t on The Science Channel, they’re on Fox or the Food Network.
Food is also psychological, emotional, and social.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been with friends and, after a bad day, we’ve decided to go out for ice cream or bake some cookies. There’s something about sharing food (especially food we know is bad for us) that gets people to open up.
And what would a celebration be without a cake? Or a party without pizza? Or a cold winter night without soup? Different foods bring certain emotions – such as elation, freedom, and comfort.
And then, there is of course, one of the best things about food. Whatever role food plays, it always comes down to the same thing – sharing.
When we find a healthy recipe that is, miraculously, also tasty, we tell everyone who will listen.
We eat tabooed sweets with friends and discuss the problems of the day.
We gather around a cake to wish someone happy birthday.
Food is a way to send a message without saying a word. It’s a way to travel without a passport. And it’s the easiest way to form bonds.
Thinking back on college, whenever my group of friends would get together, food was always a constant. We three girls would take turns making a dessert. That was always the climax of every evening. Whenever we’d start to slow down, someone would bring out the dessert, and we’d have energy for another couple of hours.
But the best times were when we made complete meals. Everyone would bring a little something (though we girls would do most of the cooking), and we’d all sit at the table (like civilized adults rather than college students), talking about the food, the evening to come, and any other news from around campus.
Food, as day-to-day as it may be, is really an amazing thing. Making it is a careful and delicate art, serving it is a way to say, “welcome, friend,” and thinking about it reveals just how important it is.
Author C.S. Lewis once discussed those very things – art, friendship, and philosophy – that make living worthwhile.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art,” he said. “It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
And food, I would have to say, must be among those things as well. Which leads me to only one question… What’s for dinner tonight?
Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.