Love on the table
Many of us would be familiar with the Christmas experience – plates piled high with food and the feeling that we have to offer our friends and families an excess of food to fit with the festive season. Why has this excess become part of our Christmas? What are we celebrating at Christmas?
Christmas in the Christian calendar is about celebrating the birth of Christ and the love of God expressed by delivering to humanity his son to show the way for all. It has become in popular tradition a time for gift giving and sharing meals where we express and share love with family and friends. Reflecting on the excesses of Christmas made me wonder, have we intertwined food and love so inextricably that our expression of love has become associated with servings of food, so that the offering of more food and the consumption of it have come to mean more love?
It seems to me from my own observations that we really struggle at times to say no to the excesses of food presented to us and, as a result, end up overeating, which then in turn results in many uncomfortable consequences to our body.
How often do we say yes to the excesses of food simply to avoid offending the person who is offering us this food? Perhaps this comes from understanding that they are trying to show how much they love us through the meals they prepare. It is easy to buy into this ideal that love can be demonstrated in a plate of food. Is how much someone loves us to be measured by the effort they go to, how much they prepare and how much they offer us? If we consider the answer to this we know that it is a fallacy.
Love is not measured by a plate of food
If we know that the love is not on the plate but in all the consideration that has gone into its preparation, how do we say yes to the love and no to the huge servings of food?
Our patterns of overeating are often rooted in childhood experiences:
I have heard many people recall being told that they had to eat everything on their plate before they would be allowed to ‘leave the table’, so overeating became something you had to do to get on with things you would rather do: and others have memories of being told that they should be grateful for the food that they were given as there are children starving all around the world – the ‘starving children’ guaranteed to evoke bucketloads of guilt for every rejected pea or potato left on the plate.
Which brings me back to the idea of eating out of guilt. Guilt for not being grateful for the love offered in a plate of food. My mother, like so many other mothers, used the food she prepared as a way of expressing love to her family. She poured her expression of love into the food she cooked and when she would say "have some more", it was her way of saying "have some more love". She was always saying "have some more", and any attempt to refuse that could be instantly seen in her eyes and her body language as a hurt of her love being refused.
A friend in her sixties also shares a similar story:
“In my family a visit with a particular grandparent, affectionately known as "Nanny yum yum", would mean a plate piled high with food, followed by a delicious generous-sized dessert, and home-baked biscuit or cake for after. It was her expression of love.”
Another woman also experienced this challenge at meal times when she was living in Italy:
“At meals there were always 5 courses. If I wanted to leave anything the mother of my boyfriend would feel that she had done something wrong . . . why would I not want to eat her lovely food? Cooking, for an Italian mother, was her way of showing love and if you didn’t eat it you were rejecting her love.”
But is there true love in these all too common stories or is there something else?
It does not feel loving to be forced to eat food to ensure another feels that their love has been accepted and approved. If I look back at my mother’s offers of "have some more", I sense that it was not really love but her way of feeling needed and her need to be needed that made the food so important. I keep coming back to the very simple fact: love cannot be found in a plate of food.
Have you ever tried to be good?
We all know we don’t want to ‘be bad’, but is ‘being good’ our highest possible expression to achieve?
Whatever the reason we feel that we need to eat what is offered to us, when Christmas comes around every year we are offered the perfect time to look closely at this pattern – this way of eating which may be pleasurable for a moment in time but afterwards can often be very damaging to our bodies. And it’s not just Christmas when this becomes a challenge for us, but over the rest of the holiday season, on other days of celebration – in fact it could be at any time we are gathered together with others for a meal.
It appears that somewhere along the way that approval, need, guilt and many more emotions have become intertwined in sharing food with others
Perhaps it is also for each of us hosting a gathering at a festive time to consider that, if we are imposing portion sizes too large for our guests to truly enjoy, we too may be cooking and presenting food arising from our own needs to demonstrate ‘love’ in a particular way and to be accepted and approved. In this regard it seems crazy that we are not cooking to care and support the health and wellbeing of those we love by piling up their plates with food in a way that could ultimately harm them.
If we are offended when others say no to the food that is supposedly ‘the love’ we are offering, it is worth reflecting upon whether we are seeking approval, appreciation, recognition or love from others in preparing and serving food. What if that was not in the way and instead we simply cooked with the intention of lovingly nourishing those who are eating the food we offer?
Would not lovingly prepared food shared among friends and family be enough to satisfy our appetite if love was on the table first?
There is a way to celebrate these special days, and in fact to use each and every meal, not only the ones on festive occasions, to celebrate ourselves and others in our lives, without the excesses of what we have come to expect, and now consider normal.
A grandmother shares:
“Last year some of my family shared Christmas dinner with me. There were no weeks of preparation, nor a refrigerator overflowing with treats, just a trip to the beach with a visit to the fish market to choose our ingredients plus some fruit and vegetables. My son cooked a whole fish that we ate with a delicious salad, and later the watermelon was cut up for the children. No frills, but beautiful, tasty food. No loosening of belts or sleepiness, sugar hype or crankiness, just the true enjoyment of each other’s company. It was oh so simple, definitely not to excess, but full of love.”
Can we make every meal a celebration of enjoying each other’s company rather than the food on the plate? After all, if we look underneath all the ideas about Christmas, what we are really celebrating is the love we have for each other.
Putting love on the table has nothing to do with the serving size or the food offered, but everything to do with how we are with each other, every day and in every moment.
Would not lovingly prepared food shared among friends be enough to satisfy our appetite if love was on the table first? Or, more to the point, why is not every meal regarded as a celebration of enjoying each other’s company?