To understand my love for the art of cooking, I feel it is important that you understand from where this love was born. When my siblings and I were growing up, my mother, a stay-at-home-mom, worked magic with food. It was not so much with exotic recipes as much as it was for having the ability to cook for seven on a limited budget. Back then, (when I say “back then” I am referring to my childhood, a couple or three or five decades ago) we kids had no idea that money was tight. Except for that time when we were forced to drink milk that was half diluted with powdered milk. For the record, powdered milk is NOT milk and to this day, I cannot smell that smell of imitation milk without having vivid flashbacks of my childhood of having to wash down dinner with a glass full of pretend milk. Nevertheless, I digress. So, where was I? Yes, tight budget, awesome food.
When you are a kid, economics mean nothing. If there is a check left in the checkbook, there is money to spend. It wasn’t until I had my own kids who used to argue with me about the whole checkbook thing that I recalled thinking in that manner. Dinner at the Strange house almost always consisted of three different items; the main course, a vegetable, and a starch. Often, the three food groups were combined into a cheesy, creamy, meatless, aromatic casserole that would make you forget the worst of days and would comfort your heart as well as it filled your belly. The term comfort food was coined to describe my mother’s casseroles.
My father’s career in the National Park Service moved our family from the West Coast to the East Coast and several points in between. Our family lived in California, Arizona, Texas, Massachusetts, and finally Kentucky. Along the way, my mother, of German heritage, learned the fine art of ethnic cooking. Our meals were never mundane or boring. One of the most lasting memories of my childhood is my appreciation for the many different types of foods my mother introduced to us. She did so much more than teach us about different foods; she also taught us about many different cultures of the world. What I know now that I did not know then was how other cultures could eat well, for minimal cost, by using various spices to enhance their foods. My mother figured out this secret and so often filled our house with the aromas of the Orient, South America, and Italy, to name just a few.
My mother, just shy of 80-years-old, still cooks almost every day. To our delight and sometimes dismay, she has learned new and exciting dishes via the Cooking Channel. She is still teaching people about culturally defined foods by helping to feed a couple hundred individuals once a week at the church soup kitchen. I am ever so thankful to have inherited my mother’s love of food and the art of preparing it.
My interest in food has evolved somewhat from the art of preparing it to the psychology pertaining to it. All humans have a biological need for food. However, those biological drives are coupled with our psychological needs that cause us to crave certain foods, not just because we are hungry, but because we need them on an emotional level. We live in a society that pays a great deal more attention to the emotional attachments we have with food rather than attending to the biological functions of food. The rate of obesity in the United States, among adults and children, is a strong indicator that people are not viewing food for its biological potential and merely eating out of habit, addiction, and dependency. Food is no different from anything else we partake of in life; it must be taken in moderation. When we ignore the rule of moderation, we lose our appreciation for whatever it is we are doing. When used in excess, wine becomes a means of inebriation and the individual loses the appreciation for the art of making that wine. Food is no different; we must appreciate the food we put into our bodies or else it becomes just another substance we learn to abuse and take for granted.
I believe we can have the best of both worlds when it comes to food. We can appreciate it for its biological purpose and enjoy it for the emotional satisfaction it brings to us. In future submissions, I will be highlighting the benefits of certain foods as well as explaining the psychological attachments we have with foods. You do not have to give up taste in order to eat healthier. You simply have to understand and appreciate the foods you eat and their overall purpose for the mind, body, and soul.