52 Ways: Cultural Variations in Showing Love by Feeding

Feeding has always been embedded within culture, from the earliest days of hunters and gatherers to modern times when food choices have exploded exponentially. Both time and place force revision of what is possible and desirable. If we are to show love through our feeding of others, we need to be aware of these shifts. 

Sometimes a culture has a clear vision of the role of food in life.  Watch this brief video of a CBS Sunday Morning telecast illustrating official French government policy on school lunches. Lunches include five nutritious and attractively presented courses served on real china with metal utensils in a setting intended to promote socializing while eating. The program addresses sound nutrition, the senses (at least smell, taste, sight and touch), and spiritual needs for connection to others. The range of foods French children eat (without endless choices) and probably the pleasure they derive from eating likely contribute to the lower rate of obesity in France as well as greater discernment concerning what is worth eating, when and how and with whom. The children cannot help but feel loved by the attention adults pay to their diet and positive messages about eating that surround them. They approach food differently from those who eat fast food or packaged snacks in isolation while watching television or consulting their phones.

This is only one example of the variations in attitudes towards food and feeding that is culturally based. The “Mediterranean diet” gets credit for heightened longevity.  Fat, sodium, and sugar-filled foods and drinks are blamed for all sorts of evils.  Some countries embrace food and feeding as the glue that binds families together; others condemn enthusiasm about eating as gluttony and greed and see sharing meals with others as optional. 

Not only do attitudes about food and feeding and its role in loving vary with culture, they change with time. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons was a cover for Mother’s Day than ran on May 9, 1994. Artist Edward Sorel drew four quadrants with a mother figure and a little girl. In the quadrant labeled “1934”, mother and daughter cooked together, mixing and heating foods in collaboration. In the “1954” panel, the mother was surveying the freezer’s contents as her daughter looked on.  By “1974”, Mom was popping something into a microwave while her daughter sat at the table, focused on a separate activity. And in “1994”, Mom studies the (presumably take-out) menu as she speaks into the telephone, her daughter watching television in the adjacent room. A range of careful studies document the value of family dinners and a multidisciplinary Harvard team has even created “The Family Dinner Project.org”.  

But food is not the only thing we feed to those we love. This week we examine what we are feeding, the forms through which we are feeding it, and the many reasons why we may be showing love through our feeding.

What do we feed?

  • The body. We feed the body through what we send into it intentionally — food and drink and chemical compounds like drugs or vitamins — as well as ingredients from our environment. Ample data attest to the impact of air quality, noise, weather, and human energies on our bodies and their functioning.
  • The mind. We feed our minds through the media, with information, attitudes, and imagery; all can evoke emotion. We feed our minds through discussions with others, their impact amplified or reduced by the level of conflict involved and the context.
  • The spirit. We feed our spirits when we share a sense of awe, comport ourselves with character, receive the benevolence of others through accepting their help, or reach out in compassion.
  • Our relationships. We feed our relationships when we provide positive input and limit the inevitable negativity.

How do we feed? We feed by providing or withholding, facilitating or disrupting, the delivery of resources.  Four of the most important resources through which we show love by feeding are:

  • Food and drink. Offering food and drink has become an essential part of both hospitality and celebration across cultures. The fact of its daily necessity makes it a prime candidate for expressing love. 
  • Information. Although the illusion is growing that we can obtain all the information we need from Google or Siri or Alexa, it simply is not true. Only a person you love can let you know how they are doing, what they want and need, what their intentions may be. Only they can reflect their personal understanding of your wants and needs. When we provide personal information, “feeding” it to those we love, we are showing trust and generating closeness.
  • Energy. We share our energy both actively, when we exert effort on someone else’s behalf or we accompany them in a nourishing or helpful way, and more passively, by radiating our own emotional tone into the environment.  Emotional contagion is real.  
  • Inspiration. Equally or perhaps more important, we can bring inspiration to someone we love by helping them hope, imagine, be grateful.

Why can what and how we feed show love?

  • Source: yalehealth/Pixabay

    Sustenance. We are dependent on each other for our very survival. Even though the rare story of someone who made it through a long period of isolation or deprivation does occasionally surface, most of us, most of the time, need others to survive.

  • Nourishment. Once we move beyond survival, we seek nourishment on every level so that we can grow. Providing food for the body or food for the soul to another person expresses both our self-love, a confidence that what we have to give is of value, and love of others, including hopes that they will grow.
  • Pleasure. Feeding can be an attempt to provide pleasure. We offer rewards to the loved one simply for being in our life.
  • Support. When we feed others what they might not have otherwise obtained or even come across by themselves, we are showing love by offering them support.
  • Respect. By being sensitive to their needs and wants when we feed them, we are showing love through respect for their preferences as well as for their ability and right to choose for themselves.
  • Connection with the earth and the larger world. Finally, what we offer as we feed someone we love can help connect them to the earth (literally, through food that comes from the earth) and to the larger world. Appreciation of ways in which we are connected to one another amplifies and expands the love in the universe.

In what ways do you most often feed someone you love? How do you prefer to be fed yourself? To feed others? How do you understand attempts to show love by feeding you food, drink, information, energy, or inspiration?

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

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