Of the many ways used to express love, I find food the strangest. Whatever truth there may be in the saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I refuse to believe that you’d be able to keep his heart in good condition if you continue feeding him the rich food of love. Sooner than later, the cheese if not the oil and the ghee will smother it and what will you do with all your love then?
Forget about lovers, I’ve seen scores of mothers over-feeding their children, because they love them so much! Of course, if a child is hungry you need to feed her but allow the child to learn what hunger feels like. And the problem is that long after their children have grown up, mothers continue to fuss over their meals as if a 20-year-old wouldn’t know when to eat and how much. It’s one thing to badger an adult child to eat greens and veggies, it’s another to badger him to eat all things you find tasty, however unhealthy they may be.
I, for one, am particularly averse to the idea of being force-fed. I do not remember being force-fed even as a child. My mother just let us be because she firmly believes that if a child is hungry, there’s no reason why she won’t ask for food. And that’s how we were brought up. I am extremely fastidious about the foods I or dislike. Despite that, my mother never tried to bully me into eating things I did not find palatable because she knew there was a point up to which she could try to drive sense into my head; beyond that, I’d continue being adamant, foolish or fastidious.
Even when I was living in a hostel away from home, mum never inquired on the phone if I’d eaten my lunch or dinner because she was so sure that I wouldn’t stay hungry, no matter what. And that doesn’t mean she loved or cared for me lesser than those mothers who were going paranoid wondering about their grown-up children’s meal, the same children who were grown up enough to live away from home, but not old enough to take care of their food.
If someone asks me ten times in a day if I’ve eaten or not, it’s likely I’ll lose any appetite for my favourite foods as well. And it serves no purpose – this asking after adult children if they’d like to eat this or that. If they want to, they will anyway and if they don’t, why emotionally blackmail them into eating something that they could easily do without?
And because food wasn’t just a big deal at home, we never used it to blackmail our parents either. No matter how angry or upset I would be, I never gave up my meal for it because I knew it wouldn’t hurt anyone except me and that my mother wasn’t going to come begging to me to have at least one morsel of food. I’d have to go hungry and that wasn’t such a nice weapon to get back at anyone.
Also, whenever she saw me overeating, instead of bloating with motherly pride at my expanding waistline, instead of indulging me, she would ask very subtly if indeed I was hungry for a second helping. And that was hint enough for me to know I was going overboard.
Now, when I’m faced with hosts at a party who take it upon themselves to feed their guests till they can eat no more, it evokes a really angry response in me. So you cooked all that scrumptious stuff and put in a lot of time and effort doing it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stuff my mouth with everything that you put on a platter before me. The whole idea of Indian hospitality is hinged on not just what you serve your guests but how much of it they eat. And I think it’s very, very unhealthy apart from being very irritating.
I’ve often seen my friends, much-married with children, panic at dinner-time because they so want to eat out but can’t because there’s food been cooked for them at home. And what do you think will happen if they don’t eat that food the same night? No, the food won’t rot – why do you think refrigerators were made? – but the mother’s mood certainly will. Of course, these adult children don’t give up the pleasure of eating out; they just go home and eat all over again. Need I say what that can lead to?
People think love can be substituted with food. And so, when you aren’t quite in the mood to savour deep-fried, buttered, over-cooked food, or even normal food, they take it as a rejection of their labour of love. Which it isn’t meant to be.
Also, when you equate love with food, you just can’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods. So if sonny boy asks for fried nuts, mommy dear will furnish them with utmost love, irrespective of how they add to a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and the health problems that creep up when you’ve crossed 30. It’s not about how calories can make you fat, it’s about how they can cause you long term harm which won’t be visible just yet. And mind you, it’s all for love!
For once, I blame women for all this food-for-love business because inadvertently, it’s the women in the family who’re in charge of the kitchen. And whether as wives or mothers, if they cannot distingusih between love and food, we’re going to have very unhealthy families.