One little woman I cared for never failed to ask, "Have you had breakfast?" (or lunch or dinner). It did not matter what time of day I arrived or even if I'd been there for hours. She may have even sat with me while we both dined, and sometime later will ask me the same question. I never thought much about it until this morning. She is not the first woman in my life that felt it her duty to feed me.
Feeding must be a mother thing. Birds regurgitate worms for their very young. Mammals nurse first and teach the art of hunting or gathering later. Though fathers assist in supplying food or safeguard the young while the female hunts, this morning I believe feeding is a maternal instinct and many of our eating habits developed at a young age.
Wild animals follow their stomachs to determine when it is time to eat. Residents of human homes (in all but the poorest) follow a clock. From the time an infant's formula is scheduled, our mothers feed us on a time continuum. Nothing frustrates a mother more than a child who is not hungry at mealtime. We learn to eat to meet another's expectations.
My first mother-in-law never let us head home from a visit without filling our ice chest with food. She either doubted I could cook at fifteen or knew her son was a sporadic worker and feared our cupboards were bear.
Mother-in-law #2 was a different feeder. When mealtime came around she opened the refrigerator and laid out a spread. This may have been cultural for she was married to an Italian "Archie Bunker". He ruled the roost, kitchen included, expecting meals to meet his anticipation.
Think of how different habits evolve around food. For some families dinner is a social time with laughter and comradery-barbeques with neighbors or dinner and a movie. For others it is a discipline- silence, no slurping and elbows off the table.
Food can be more than sustenance and nutrition. We may be subconsciously taught it brings comfort. Comfort food may be specific to a situation; chocolate for stress or depression, stuffed turkey for familial holidays. When ill, I take comfort in scrambled eggs and cold toast rather than traditional chicken soup.
Somewhere along the way humankind found pleasure to be an unexpected byproduct of eating. I am not sure any other species eats for sheer pleasure other than humans or those pets whose diet they influence.
We've come far from the natural order of a meal being a reward in itself. A well-executed hunt rewards a lion with food to survive. We've wandered away from a summer's work on the farm providing our family's winter meals. Be it intentional or not, we learn food is a reward. We carry this association into adulthood with candy bars as prizes for winning bingo or a banana split the reward for losing weight!
Problems begin when food habits become the only way we relate to people, emotions or situations. Try a cup of tea, a hot bath and a good book to relieve stress. Relieve loneliness or depression with social interaction that does not include food. Walk with a friend; feed the ducks at Theta pond; dream-build by looking at realtors' open houses or by test driving a new car. Returning food to its natural role as sustenance alone may be life itself.