A Strange Relationship With Food

Excuse me, I have a problem: I’m hungry. Scratch that. I am a very hungry man. I’m just obsessed.

In the hands of any number of other bloggers this would be the chance to unload many and varied comments about weight, and the perils of food. It would be a self-flagellating piece of ordure. No.

My perspective is a little different. It’s the fact that the thought of food, of cooking great food, of planning ahead to the next meal, of eating something genuinely tasty, is one of my constant trains of thought throughout every single day. Ask me what I’m thinking about: it’s what I’ll be cooking next.

Eating is such a luxury. I’m not even talking about eating out, or eating anything special; for me, the planning of the next meal, the thought of what I can consume is a joy in and of itself. I am currently stuck in a hospital, without having had anything to eat today, wondering what to have for breakfast.

I’ll spend the rest of the day at work, doing my menial tasks, and none of it will come close to the fun I am having thinking about the options for slaking this hunger in a couple of hours. It will be bacon.

Am I alone in this monomania? A lot of people tell me that food is just fuel. Am I behaving rationally?

The impression I get from most people is that they do not plan their meals fifteen weeks ahead, the way I do, in order to get a lot of variety and balance in to their menus. I further get the impression that they don’t write shopping lists for those menus. But we’ve discussed that one already. It seems to me that a lot of people just make it up as they go along. When I do that I feel too much pressure.

I can be standing there with a supermarket full of ingredients in front of me, all in peak perfection, and my mind goes blank. I do not know what my choices are, and I do not know what food exists. This most often comes about on holidays, when I can’t plan ahead – because I don’t know what is in the shops in Norway or Switzerland – and it causes a great deal of consternation for my little family.

Planning meals is something I seem to have been born to do. My daughter has the bug, too, but that could just be the fact that she’s five, and cures boredom with eating. For both of us, the main topic to approach our easily distracted minds is the next meal. Admittedly, with her it’s also playing games with her parents, but that’s a genuine cure for boredom, rather than a fake one. It lasts much longer.

I’m not sure how much I actually enjoy the sensation of eating the food which I have cooked. It’s always been like that. I think it’s being too close to the process, or just being shattered after having been cooking for so long. The process is very therapeutic, like tinkering with a project, or crafting something from scratch. In essence, it’s both of those things. How many people who tinker with car engines, for instance, want to keep the cars after they’re done tinkering, though? Where’s the fun in that? They want to sell it on, and move on to a new set of things to tinker with. Bigger challenges.

I am genuinely quite envious of the people who are less consumed than I by the things which they consume. I’m not talking about the food issues people, for whom a relationship with food is a battle: I mean the people who are content to just be in and out of the kitchen in the shortest possible time, and then carrying on with their lives. I want to spend more time watching TV. I want to spend less time working out which shop near me sells the best bacon sandwiches, for the least effort. I want to be able to pick one up on the way back from the school run, but not be dragged far out of my way.

A comfortable existence should not be shaken by the lesser privation. Hunger is only a slight pain.

And yet, and yet, and yet. It’s not the hunger which drives the quest: in the case of hunger I will go down the path of least resistance. I will throw a few things in a pan, heat it up and chow it down.

Planning which foods to eat has nothing to do with the mechanics of which foods will give me the greatest benefit – do you choose food to eat healthily? That sounds rather boring – rather the foods I choose are those which I will enjoy the most. Or at least the ones I hope to enjoy the most.

The foods I plan to cook are the ones I hope to derive the most pleasure from cooking, every bit as much as I want to enjoy eating the end results. I am too arrogant to choose the foods which I feel the people I am cooking for will enjoy the most. Unless it’s their birthday, and I’ll make an exception.

I spent a happy Sunday thinking about a kidney dish, replete with a rich gravy, only for the whole lot to turn out gluey, under seasoned and generally disappointing. Not everything goes quite to plan.

Food is not the centre of the universe; nor am I claiming it to be: it can be a lot of fun, however.

I do not know what everyone else does with their time if they’re not planning meals, shopping for food, cooking meals, or eating them (or trying to connive their children in to choosing to eat them). I wish I understood what banalities these people filled their lives with. Hobbies? I write – that’s my hobby. Drug habits? Enticing, but not this time. Sleeping? Now I’m on board (I bet it’s not sleeping).

That’s the problem with something which is all-consuming: you don’t get the chance to look around and see what everyone else is doing. Although that is perhaps what they are doing. Social media has granted us all an infinite window in to the fake lives of others. With just a few taps on my phone I can look at countless Instagram posts of things which have never happened. And so can you.

I do feel that my life would be missing something, however. I have a suspicion that we are all drawn to things which we are good at, or which will bring us joy. That’s namby-pamby horse-shit, but it is self-justifying namby-pamby horse-shit, so bear with me. I am drawn to cooking because it makes me happy. I think about cooking because doing so makes me happy. Let’s not stop just now, eh?