What does food mean to you? Do you ever think how our comfort food choices develop? Read this week Sohini De’s blog as she discusses our relationship with food.
Food means different things to different people. It is probably the most individualised sensation we have with an external element. Yet it is one the main source of nourishment for our mind and body. To ensure our body gets that nourishment, we need to eat food and human nature is very predictable in the sense we do not eat what we do not like. Where does that ‘like’ come from? My opinion is it is developed over the years since birth.
Did we ever think how our comfort food choices develop? I try to notice my behaviour around food and I realised it is those foods which made me really happy as a child or those which have the slightest association with the happy side of my childhood, gives me the biggest comfort and I tend to reach for them when I am down. The other day I tried some courgette fritters in Dublin at a health summit and it brought me straight back to my childhood, I can guarantee my kitchen will be seeing those soon.
Association can be even related to weather, smell or any other external factor. I know I love ‘khichuri’, a lentil and rice dish (whose distant cousin is the English version ‘Kedgeree’) when it is raining because it reminds me how I could bunk my classes and have fun in the rain. Yes, living in Ireland, ‘Khichuri’ has become a staple in my household. I was most proud the day my 16yr old cooked it on his own! When I am in India, the fragrance of a particular flower ‘kadam’ reminds me of my grandmother’s fish curry and I love taking those paths with kadam trees for my daily walks.
These are the little conversations we need to have around food. Food is not a picture perfect plate on Instagram or foods with ingredients from far off shores because they are healthy! Local ingredients even if they are simple vegetables or fish or meat, they need to tell a story to generate our curiosity which will induce our brain to try it and that will be enough to start our healthy eating journey.
Once you get used to those local home cooked produce, it is difficult to go back to processed or packaged foods. Then cooking becomes enjoyable and not a chore. Kids learn from adults and if they grow up with home cooked food, chances are, they will learn to cook. When I moved to Ireland, I had no idea of cooking. So for the first month I relied on ready meals but then my taste buds, which were used to home cooked food, got so fed up, I started cooking. Our problem is reliance on convenience foods and not lack of good ingredients or time. Cooking at home is quicker than getting a takeaway even on a weekday.
As I said, every dish should tell a story. Even the ones which do not turn out well, because you were experimenting with ingredients. They will tell their own stories and you can laugh about them. Couple of my friends tried for a full day to make ‘luchi’ a version of Indian pastry and failed miserably but that became a legendary story amongst us and we still laugh our guts out when the story is retold. That did not mean they stopped making it. On the contrary, they kept trying till they perfected it.
One does not lift 200kg in the gym on the very first day of training. Similarly cooking may or may not come naturally to you the first day. But it will eventually work, if you enjoy it. That’s why the conversation and the stories are important. Recipes sell very well and we are constantly told to post recipes, which we do not mind, because we love creating recipes. But, if someone is not excited, it will be difficult to motivate them to cook those recipes from fresh ingredients. The only way to get ourselves excited for a recipe is having fun in the kitchen and retelling those stories. Think of your chemistry lab in school, kitchen is nothing but that. Let the child in you come out and experiment. Some will go horribly wrong but some will make you real proud!