What defines food? This deceptively simple question has been put to the world of Twitter by the team at noma, and it got me thinking.
Let’s start with basic, undeniable fact: food is sustenance. It is one of the few things that we absolutely need to survive. And, for some people, this is where it ends. But for most of us, it is so much more.
Food manages to be simultaneously individual and social. The way we experience food is different for each person, with different ideas of what tastes good, and different memories evoked. At the same time, food is intensely social. Whether it is two people cuddling up at twilight eating off a single plate, a family sitting around a table sharing Christmas dinner, or an entire community coming together to make a big batch of tomato sugo, so much of food is about people.
There is so much emotion in food. It can make you feel warm and comfortable, like a rich, steaming bowl of stew. It can make you feel joyful and childlike, like a sweet, messy and slightly silly dessert. And it can make you miss home if you eat anything that reminds you of what your mother used to make.
Food is a gift, one that is best given out of love. When you cook for someone else, you work to express yourself for them, and it creates a bond between the cook and the eater. Parents cook for children, lovers for each other, friends for friends, and chefs for everyone. And food made with love is appreciated more. This is one reason that the best food in the world is almost always to food your mother cooked.
In the end, that’s what food is. It’s an expression of love and of self from the person creating it, passing it on to someone for both their sustenance and their enjoyment. It is the only thing that nourishes our soul at the same time as actually keeping us alive.
Not to mention, damn it tastes good.