Sometimes it seems that all people these days live for is fine dining and cooking. Last Saturday night I was at a Canadian thanksgiving dinner, and the main conversation topic was food. On Thursday a participant on my training course expressed his main concern about the programme: the quality of food. On Tuesday night I turned on the TV and had a choice of three cooking programmes. Am I the only one who is bored by all this? And why has declaring yourself a foodie become a hallmark of sophistication?
It’s not that I don’t enjoy good food or do not enjoy cooking. In fact, I love to improvise a good meal from fresh and various ingredients. It gives me sense of history to share knowledge of preparing food with a long line of ancestors. It soothes a busy mind to focus only on the flow of cooking, with a ‘tasty’ dish as the result. Yet I do not ask for a set of cooking knives as a birthday present. After an exhausting day in the office I prefer to get take away and read a book. Nor do I think that the long line of housewife ancestors on the female side would have had to think twice about whether or not to bake their own bread or pasta, a favourite foodie pastime. My mother’s Japanese friend once confided that she had to learn to make sushi herself so that she could teach her keen Dutch friends.
Maximising the experience of our taste buds seems quite a hedonistic activity that has little to do with the need for food to survive. In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow claimed that self-actualisation rather than hedonism would be the end stage of individual development. At the lower rungs of Maslow’s pyramid are the need for physiological well-being, safety, belonging and respect. Having secured all this, Maslow anticipated that individuals would focus on morality and creativity to become all that they were capable of becoming.
Although some of us run marathons or engage in charity work, I imagine that Maslow would be disappointed to see that most of us at the top of the pyramid profess ourselves to be foodies at heart. Picture him going to the cinema to see ‘Eat Pray Love’, a dead-serious Julia Roberts vehicle about a successful thirty-something who leaves her husband for no reason at all and moves to Italy to eat. She then moves to India to find her true self in a foreign culture and religion. She then moves to Bali to fall in love, although it is unclear why this time she won’t take off to Italy again.
This modern fairy tale made me quite sad because it is such a hollow Hollywood take on Maslow’s expectations for us, lacking both morality and creativity. The one touching moment is at the start of the film when Julia clumsily falls on her knees to pray, searching for words to address god. Perhaps being more rooted in our own culture would make us less focused on chasing fleeting satisfaction, and find more balanced and longer term happiness.