Why does the Potter drink from the broken pot? Why does the chef prefer hotpot to horse bresaola? Why isn’t France the most Obese nation? Our relationship with food offers a few insights.
For the past couple of decades there has been a deep thirst for novelty. It’s not just food where this has happened — we’re biologically hardwired to seek new experiences — but food does make for an interesting entrypoint into what is perhaps the deeper and more important conversation. Furthermore, everyone likes food.
At the societal level, it seems the driving factor is to find something different from the homely foods with which we’re all-too familiar — something different from meat and potatoes and pasta and toast. This has fuelled the multi-cultural food revolution. Every cuisine can now be found in every big city, and most cuisines can be found in every city. The cause is demand for novelty.
But have we had enough novelty? Have we satisfied every ounce of our palettes. Are we just too tired with the search? Or have we traversed the entire landscape? In an increasingly digitally-connected world, it might seem weird that feelings of loneliness are on the rise. One reason is the decrease in physical connection, such as that experienced in the family home. Families used to eat together all the time, necessarily. The food — which would typically be as comforting, tasty, nutritious and fun as it could be — was just as important as the environment. Eating good food with people you love in an environment in which you feel safe: these are the building blocks of positive associations.
Today, not only is eating with others unnecessary, there’s also less time, everyone has a different schedule, convenient grub is the norm, and there is enough choice to satisfy even the most ferociously curious palates. Such a way of living is all well and good, until we identify what it’s missing, which is how satisfying it is. Home-cooked food is inherently more satisfying because it has been cooked specifically for you, and because you don’t need to think about calories and price and where to eat, and because you’re eating in the company of others in an environment that is relaxing.
The decreased availability of home-cooked food also increases our desire for it; as with all scarcely available but desirably things, when we know we can’t have something, we want it more. This is why home-cooked food will always be popular, and why in a world in which we no longer need home-cooked food, we still crave it. It’s like Christianity’s imperative search for The Truth: eventually, it reveals the untruth of many fundamental axioms in Christianity.
Our frantic search for novel foods — different from the status quo, exciting to the palate, mysterious, foods that instigate different chemical reactions within the body (think of the physiological differences between consuming a few pieces of dark chocolate and a bowl of pasta, with bread) — has made novelty the norm. But: submerged in this novelty, we realise it’s not really what we want or need.