For me, the meaning of food has evolved throughout the course of my life. If I were to assign a set of emotions corresponding to the different stages, it would look something like this:
We’ll call stage 1 “neutral-happy.” Stage 2 will be called “GRRRR,” and stage 3 will be called “OMG, food is awesome.”
Stage 1: Neutral Happy
I was probably one of the most picky eaters growing up (sorry, mom and dad). I wasn’t adventurous by any means. Food was food. Food was essential to stop the growling tummy, and to give me the energy I needed to run around and be a hyper kid. For the most part, I didn’t help out in the kitchen too much. I was too busy with friends, school, music and athletics to take any interest in the coolness of food.
That’s not to say I didn’t have any happy food memories as a kid because I did. One of my fondest memories is how my grandpa would always carve the turkey with baggies on his hands. And then we’d have so many silly memories around the dinner table during holiday dinners.
,lkmneighbor friend and I would burn up some of the time making up recipes in my kitchen. I can’t really remember exactly which recipes we created, but I do remember (on several occasions) having to sprint to the bus stop because we lost track of time.
Oh, and I also remember the Easy Bake Oven. Not much creativity there. Just pop it in, wait & BOOM. You have a brownie, or a pizza, or, whatever.
Stage 2: GRRRR
In my first semester of college at UW Madison, I hated on food. Food was the ultimate source of evil. While most freshman were gaining their freshman 15, I was losing weight like crazy. As in 30 pounds, or 20% of my body weight. I wasn’t officially diagnosed, but yeahhh I had an eating disorder.
I’m so so so glad that I ended up transferring to UMN Twin Cities, and living at home to “fatten up” quite a bit–or gain back some of the weight that I had lost. If I had continued down that path, I would’ve done some serious damage to my body.
And ironically, I switched from a chemistry major (borrrrringgggg) to food science when I transferred schools. I had always been a science geek, and gosh darn it, I was going to like food again, too! Which leads to my last stage…
Stage 3: OMG, Food is Awesome
The tables turned once I moved back home. I took up an interest in cooking and following recipes. My mom and I would sit down on weekends and select recipes for the week, often from Everyday Food. We’d write a grocery list and then we’d cook together. I really started experimenting with new food and learning how to cook. And becoming less picky. Some still call me a picky eater, but compared with how I used to be, I’m much better. I like to call myself a “selective eater.” The early recipe-following has enabled me to be more creative in the cooking process. Nowadays, I rarely follow recipes to a T, and I’m often creating my own. It’s more fun that way.
While living at home, I also got into gardening. There’s something just so amazing about starting with small plants and seeds, and then being able to watch them grow, and then pick the food with my own hands.
One of the highlights of my food journey was being on the college bowl team as an undergrad and graduate student. In college bowl, you’re tested on your knowledge in the areas of food science and technology, history of foods, food processing, food law, and general food-related trivia.
For instance: What was the first flavor of Twinkies?? Answer: banana cream (they switched from banana cream to vanilla during World II because there was a shortage of bananas). Very useful knowledge, right?
We competed with other universities in the regional competition, and the winner went on to the national competition. It was my chance to really be a food geek. There were four people on a team, and everyone had buzzers. The moderator would read us questions, and then we’d buzz in when we knew the answer. I can’t tell you how much useless knowledge I’ve learned from reading packets and packets of questions. And how many hours I spent preparing… It was all worth it.
And now, I’m happily making yogurt in my everyday job. I get to play with food everyday, how cool is that? Nothing beats the feeling of when we’re able to crack the code, and provide a group of people with a certain food that they’ve been needing in their life. While I’m a heavy believer in real food, and taking the time to prepare meals at home, I also realize the importance of ready-to-eat food. We all live very complicated lives, and sometimes there just isn’t enough time to cook a meal from scratch. While there’s a lot of controversy related to the food industry, I’m feeling very fortunate that I’m able to influence the future of food, and create products that fit our new food perceptions. I’ve got your back!
As I reflect on my food journey so far, I’ve realized that food is not only essential for survival, but it enables us to do some pretty cool stuff!
- Food allows us to connect with the past. Tasting a certain flavor or recipe can take us back in time.
- Food inspires creativity! Remember how creative we were as kids and how you lose your sense of imagination as you get older? Food makes me feel like I’m a kid again. It’s a blank canvas, and there are infinite possibilities in how you can create new eating experiences just by ingredient selection and final meal preparation.
- Food allows us to explore other cultures and the world. I have so many great food memories from my travels abroad–the most delicious pizza in Italy, cheese produced in the Swiss Alps, flamkuchen in Germany, crepes in France, paella in Spain (gulp)…
- Food allows me to work in the field of food science, duh!
- Food allows us to connect with the earth–gardening. And most importantly…
- Food allows us to connect with friends and family. It’s the ultimate social experience. Nothing beats making and/or sharing a meal in the company of those who mean so much to you.
Hopefully, you’ve realized just how cool food is, too!
This week, I’m preparing for my next food challenge. And trying to build up some courage, too. Mushrooms. Mushrooms. Oh, so many of them. I’ve got three packages of fungus in my fridge, and I’m not sure how this even happened. I’m determined to tackle this fear head on, and make not one, not two, but THREE recipes with mushrooms. Wish me luck…