Monday, 26 February 2018

What do my cravings say about my relationships?

The most stable, intimate relationship in my life right now is with my future god twin’s mother (try saying that three times at speed.) We are domesticated if you were, as much as two people can be working in an industrial kitchen. Through this lady I have discovered a talent I never saw any importance in before; I am great at predicting pregnancy cravings or just cravings in general. I credit my pesto scrambled egg combination with her asking me to be Godmother. I am a magical fairy relative running her sausage and mustard sandwiches out of the kitchen, or frying off some marinated halloumi just for her to snack on. I love doing this as much as my company's bottom line probably hates it. I feel in a way I am nurturing, not just her and the twins-in-potentia, but my relationship with her.

That’s something about pregnancy that legitimises emotional specific eating, i.e. a craving. Your body wants hot Doritos at that moment. If it were a normal day and you weren’t expecting then that would be regarded as you being greedy, you would dismiss it, but when you’re pregnant your body goes into a nurture mode, these cravings become meaningful. Maybe Doritos are high in B12, maybe that’s what I tell myself. Whatever the craving or the reason, you never want lady specific Doritos. Cravings, like comfort food, are intensely personal and nurturing these cravings in yourself seems holistic and important in the same way a pregnant woman suddenly has a certain amount of gravitas or ‘mother earth’ connotation.

In this sense I’ve started thinking about the importance of food within relationships. I shall skip straight over the thorny issue of personal relationships with food because neither myself, any other chef I know, or any Instagram life guru has actually figured out a genuinely holistic way of interacting with food and diet in a society that is equal parts food obsessed and self-discipline praising. So instead I like to think about food as a signifier in relationships, a sort of flag on the moon kind of marker, or a timeline and so on. This might sound like a terrible way of further damaging an already fractious relationship with food but the fact is we all have quirks and we all have to eat. There’s something quite intimate about the simple comfort of knowing what food another individual needs at any given time. Or indeed in how and where someone’s food habits come from. I feel the closer we get to someone the more we accept the way they interact with food. The fact that they learnt binge eating chocolate when they’re sad from their mother or that the girl they had a crush on at school was very into clean-eating so whenever they want to impress someone they get a salad. There’s something in not being annoyed by another person chewing or demanding hummus at 1 AM.

What I’m trying to say is the way we interact with food is ultimately a very personal relationship so in knowing someone’s food habits you must surely know them. From the start of an ultimately boringly conventional relationship Person A asks Person B to drinks or dinner. Maybe somewhere along the line breakfast is made. These are sort of social norms, a way of getting someone to sit and focus on you for a certain amount of time, breakfast perhaps to signify you don’t want them to go immediately after morning sex. With friendships the same applies, food and drink becomes a marker of time, a carved out niche for creating intimacy with the other person.

Beyond societal conventions every relationship also has its own language of food. My best friend and I deliveroo’d (what is the past tense of that?) ramen every time we visited each other at university. My current partner and I get drunk and make toasties. One of my exes put ketchup on everything even though it hurt my culinary soul (there’s a reason we didn’t last). There is an understanding in this, not just in the division of cost or labour, in taking turns to treat each other or provide for each other but in the sense that you are nurturing a bond, a private stupid loosely held tradition.

There are associations and nostalgia in play with food, not just in smell, although if crime thrillers about amnesiacs have any validity, this is a powerful memory enhancer, but in comfort, in routine, of the evolutionary fact that eating will hopefully ensure you are healthier and stronger for the next day. When someone cooks or provides food for you they are ensuring your continued existence. When someone cooks something they know you like they are ensuring a strengthened connection. And when someone cooks the same food for you that you have cooked for them over and over, in the same way we mirror speech patterns or yawn when someone else does, that bond, that happiness is reinforced.

Maybe this is a professional bias but I do genuinely think the way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach. Yes, it’s cliché, yes, it places an unhealthy emphasis on food but in a society where the food channels have basically the same soundtrack as softcore porn I refuse to deny food its appeal, its intimacy and its raw humanity. In the same place sex or trust hold places in relationships food holds the centre of the Venn diagram for these. It is physical, either in an exciting way or a comforting way or both, but also incredibly cerebral, it taps into memories and emotions relevant to only the two of you. So with that, I say, let’s eat, drink and be merry goddamn it!

Natasha is a writer hailing from London but now making her way north.  Living in York,she spends her days in culinary delight; despite relying on getting her sustenance from toast as an artist, writer and cook she truly is a renaissance woman. As a firm believer in the healing power of food and a strong drink, her effortless air both inspires and excites.

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