Food of Love
As a Play Therapist working with vulnerable children I am always incredibly heartened by the appearance of symbols of food in children’s play. Representative of nurture, whether ice cream or soup, sausages or mash, food can signify a child’s sense of worth or desire to nurture others. So important is food to our wellbeing that feeding a child, whatever their age, is a central feature of a strand of therapy called Theraplay! Watching the power of food within therapy reminds me that food is about so much more than simply fuel for the body. This was really bought home when we were invited to a friend’s for Sunday lunch. Arriving at the house we were surprised to be greeted not by cooking smells, an assortment of pots and pans and cooking disarray (or is that just us?), but a pristinely clear odour-free kitchen! Not only was this discombobulating, but as I discovered later when we ate less than our fill, without the sensory theatre of cooking we had not charged our stomachs for the weekly ritual of eating one too many delicious roast potatoes!
Eating should be a wholly sensory experience as cooking smells pique the appetite and prepare the stomach with the necessary juices to maximise digestion and the absorption of nutrients. We need only think about a time when you’ve had a bad cold to remind ourselves of how bland and dissatisfying eating is without the three dimensional addition of smell. Sound also helps prime us for a good meal as the (hopefully) familiar sounds of cooking signal to our brains what to expect – much as Pavlov’s dogs. But we now understand thanks to aircraft industry research that continuous white noise actually affects the sensation of taste, dampening down flavours and explaining the cliché of tasteless airplane food. In fact, food that tasted great and well-seasoned on land seems bland in the air – something that airlines are becoming wise to as they increase the Unami dimension - the only taste sensation seemingly unaffected by flying.
Watch any of the plethora of cookery programs and you will understand the importance of the love, care and attention of the chef. For many home cooks, cooking delicious wholesome food is quite literally a gift of love. We are rightly much more aware and bothered about what we put into our bodies then when I was a child and a pasta meal meant spaghetti hoops from a can! You only have to chart changes in the Nursery Awards sector to see the propulsion of quality, locally sourced food onto the child care agenda, with a wealth of awards now dedicated to recognising the providence, health, environmental sustainability and let’s not forget the social dimensions of food. Supplying healthy yet appealing food options for the child market is now big business and even the fast food giants are keen to get on board, or if I’m being cynical, take a slice of the cake!
Sat anticipating a Sunday lunch without cooking smells not only dampened my appetite when the food did arrive, but in that vacuum of uncertainty I felt unsure of whether our basic needs would be met. This got me thinking about the demise of cooking in the home and rise of convenient ready meal options designed to be banged in the microwave. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a break from cooking courtesy of a ready-made curry but, these are often more expensive, less healthy and rob diners of many of those cooking smells to pique appetites and savour.
Then there’s the act of eating, an important stage in the process which all too easily can become a silent and rushed affair – something I blame on school’s desire to minimise talk and ‘get children through’ the lunchtime sittings as quick as possible. Eating meals en-famille, sadly may not be commonplace but it is a vital ingredient in sharing news, agreeing family priorities and in short keeping family communication channels open – no mean feat when teenagers and closed bedroom doors are involved! Conversation may be a dying art as many children, and let’s face it adults, have plugged the gap with virtual communication, but parents, schools and nurseries up and down the country have a duty to ensure that children experience a ‘family’ meal with adults and no TV as often as possible.
Children love nothing more than copying what they see happening at home, so if we are able to involve children in food preparation and cooking as well as baking we will not only set them up for life but also help them forge a positive association with food. Let’s face it with fast food options becoming ever more tempting and prolific, we need all the help we can get, so in the words of John Torode ‘Let’s cook!’