Have you ever heard the expression “food is love” and wondered about the validity of that statement? I have found that this can be somewhat of a controversial subject. When I think about “food is love,” my mind conjures up images of warm chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked by your mom when you’re having a bad day. Or a hot bowl of soup cooked by your significant other when you’re feeling under the weather. My definition of comfort food stems from the concept of certain foods making us feel warm and loved.
This all sounds delightful until you consider the fact that some people turn to food for comfort in unhealthy ways. Should I eat a whole pot of macaroni and cheese when I’m feeling blue? Probably not. I have known people who have grown up with a strong presence of the “food is love” mentality in their childhood homes, and they have gone on to battle food-mood issues for years while trying to build a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t grow up in a family that strongly associated food with love. However, I will be the first to admit that I have engaged in stress-eating as well as searching for answers at the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Haven’t we all?
One could easily argue that “food is love” is a toxic concept. Food is not love; love is love. We should not eat (or drink) our way through emotional experiences, and we should not turn to what’s on our plates for feelings of comfort or acceptance. In order to build a healthy relationship with food, we should see it as a source of sustenance and nothing more. Please read on.
But that brings to an interesting question. Why not show someone you love them with food that will nourish their body or delight their palate? The world is full of all types of artists and various ways to show you care: some people write poems or songs, some paint pictures, others fix your car or clean the bathroom to show their affection. Still others shop for gifts, either practical or sentimental. I cook.
The last thing I want to do is demonstrate my love for friends and family in a way that gives them years of issues separating food from emotion, but I often find myself showing loved ones that I care through the food that I create. I think that is okay, and I know it has been greatly appreciated. Your comfort food doesn’t have to include a pound of butter, a pan of bacon grease, or a gallon of frosting. But if it does, okay. I tend to cook for what the occasion requires, and in my experience, people need to be loved for many different reasons. Likewise, I can show them I care in many different ways.
A smoothie for a friend who is so sick she that she can’t eat solid foods
A holiday salad to share for good luck
Miniature sandwiches for a celebration
Soup to chase away a bad cold
A nutritious and romantic meal for the person you want to grow old with
I remember a time from my childhood when Dad wanted to cook the family a special dinner. Perhaps it was our Irish heritage, or maybe this was a dish that Dad remembered from his childhood, but whatever the reason may be, Dad made us Shepherd’s Pie. Mom turned her nose up at it, clearly not a fan of the dish, but she ate it anyway. Dad spent a lot of time getting the ingredients together, making all three components, and then baking them together in the oven until the cheese melted and the edges turned crisp golden brown. Ever since, I have considered this dish a labor of love.
Should you decide to demonstrate your affection in the same way as I, here is a vegetarian version to share with the people who make you smile. It’s also a lot easier than the traditional method, for those of us with limited time.
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (serves 4)
- 4 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 Tbsp butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Salt and pepper
- 1 – 12oz. bag of frozen peas and carrots
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 1- 12oz or 14oz bag of frozen soy meat crumbles (fake ground beef)
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 3/4 cup vegetable broth
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash. Mix in butter, milk and 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook frozen peas and carrots according to package directions. Drain excess water. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add soy meat crumbles and cook until well browned, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk tomato paste into vegetable broth and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Spread the “meat” mixture in an even layer on the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish. Next, spread a layer of the peas and carrots. Top with the mashed potato mixture and sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
So what do you think – is “food is love” a good or bad thing? I’m calling it a gray area.