We all have to eat to survive, that much is clear. But if we are seeking to build a more meaningful life is it not worth spending a bit of time reflecting on what role food plays in this, given it’s something we’ll need to be doing everyday for the rest of our lives?
For me, the way I eat and feed my family is definitely a significant part of what makes my life meaningful to me. So how does food contribute to a more meaningful life?
Bringing people together
A meaningful life is surely one that involves connection with others. And food does this across many different cultures and has done throughout history.
Food brings families around the world together on a daily basis at the evening dinner table where they can share their stories of the day. It is a key part of how we celebrate birthdays, weddings, sporting occasions, graduations and even funerals.
Food is such a fundamental part of how many societies function that welcoming others, even an unknown traveller, into your home and sharing your food with them is customary in many parts of the world. In fact, in some countries it would be considered taboo to turn someone away, even if you had very little of your own to share. This is, I believe, not just some random meaningless tradition (most traditions have some meaningful basis when you really look into them) but an indication of just how significant food is in terms of our relationships with other human beings.
As I’ve explored in a previous post on mindfulness, being mindful of simple every day experiences and the stimulation of our senses is a key part of living a more meaningful life. In terms of eating, this clearly involves the sense of taste, although food stimulates other senses too including touch, smell and sight.
Eating even simple food mindfully can give us great pleasure when we really pay attention. Noticing the different tastes and textures of different foods can bring a whole new side to the experience of eating.
Cooking as a means of expressing our creativity
For many, cooking and eating is simply something we do to get enough nutrients into ourselves to survive. For others though cooking is a hobby, a passion, something that one might do to relax. And then there are those cooks who appear on television cooking competitions for whom cooking it seems has been elevated to an art form.
Whilst I wouldn’t say my cooking skills come anywhere near close to that standard, I would say that cooking is a means through which I can express my creativity (creativity being another major theme linked to living a more meaningful life which I have reflected on in a previous post). Because at the end of the day, in cooking we are quite literally creating something. Something essential and that gives both nourishment and pleasure (hopefully!) to both me and those I love.
Learning and self-development through cooking.
I have a cooking bucket list – recipes I want to try and skills I want to acquire. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But either way, there’s a subtle sense of satisfaction that I derive from exploring new aspects of cooking and it is absolutely linked to where I get my sense of meaning in life.
We are blessed to live in a time where we can access ingredients from all over the world fairly easily and for a relatively low price. Many items readily available in my local supermarket, my mother could only have dreamt of getting her hands on thirty years ago. So whatever it is that you want to learn it’s generally not difficult to find the ingredients, recipe or equipment that you require in a shop or online.
Cooking for those we love
Whether it’s a mother providing a nutritious meal for her children, a teenage boy pulling off his ‘pièce de la résistance’ for his girlfriend, or a young woman making a lasagne for her friend who has just had a baby, cooking for others is a way of showing that we care. And then there is the pleasure we get from watching a group of friends tucking into a meal we’ve spent hours, maybe days, thinking about and preparing and cooking.
Sometimes it’s just about getting a meal on the table. But there are times, like those described above, where cooking is an act of generosity and love. And if love and generosity aren’t parts of a more meaningful life then I don’t know what is!
And whilst we’re on the subject of love, cooking well for ourselves, and the nurturing of our bodies that this represents, is an act of self-love. If we are truly seeking to live lives of more meaning, looking after ourselves and our bodies would surely be a crucial part of this.
Cooking as part of our identity
Food is a key part of our national identity. It connects us with our cultural heritage and links us back to the past as we cook and eat meals and recipes that have been handed down to us over the generations.
Traditions vary from country to country, and even on a much more local level too with certain areas having certain ingredients that they produce or have access to, and recipes that they have consequently developed.
Even within families, cooking can be a key part of a family’s identity. Recipes are passed down the generations, as we teach our children recipes that were taught to us by our parents and grandparents.
The ritual of preparing and cooking food
For meals we make frequently, it can feel like there is something almost ritualistic about this process (again, rituals being another hugely important part of a meaningful life and something I’ll be discussing in a separate blog post). Sometimes I’ll enjoy doing this alone, enjoying the quiet and purposeful activity that I’m engaged in. Other times I’ll enjoy cooking alongside my daughters or my husband, mindful of the shared effort and the cooperation involved, and conscious of how each person is making an important contribution to the end result.
In a separate post I’ll be considering how, for some people, making ethical and environmentally aware choices about how they eat is a part of their life more meaningful.