“Food is fuel” is a saying that I’ve always heard people in health-conscious circles say, and yes, it is true. Food provides fuel for us to do amazing things. Over the years it’s given me the energy to learn to walk and ride a bike and dance around in an itchy pair of gold-sequined overalls at the Satin Slippers dance recital (yes, we looked awfully flashy) and do cannonballs off the old diving board into the outdoor pool, sending ripples all the way down to the shallow end. As the years passed, it gave me the energy to swim and be a lifeguard and play a lot of hockey and run half marathons and spend all day on my feet circulating around a classroom trying with all my might to engage the reluctant learners who like to sit in the back corner, thinking the teacher will leave them alone (I won’t). More recently, it gave me the energy to grow and birth a baby, and after becoming a mom, it gave me the energy to train for and finish a stroller half marathon. When I take a step back and think of food as fuel, it’s pretty amazing. However, in those health-conscious circles, there’s an unspoken message just beneath the saying that’s meant to shame those who use food for other reasons. I’ve always felt that I’m somehow flawed because my relationship with food is much more complicated than “food is fuel.” However, thanks to Covid-19, there’s been a rash of social media posts from dieticians and therapists meant to normalize people seeking comfort in food during this time of collective trauma, and I’ve learned that having a relationship with food beyond fuel is actually normal and healthy.
For me, food is also family. Childhood dinners with my Grama and Grampa at Fuk and Muna’s restaurant on mainstreet in Beaverlodge is probably the reason why, to this day, my instinct is to order Chinese food for supper after a tough day. My Grampa’s penchant for saying, “Now, what would be wrong with some Dairy Queen?” that often lead to us sitting in DQ’s solarium, kids twisting around on the red spinny stools, is probably why a cone of soft serve ice cream is an instant mood enhancer any time of the year. In fact, if you flip through an old family album, you’ll find a DQ ice cream cake on the table for every occasion from birthdays to retirements. Food is more than fuel.
Food is also friendship. Sitting around the table with friends at a “snack-luk” eating more than our fair share of french bread and spinach dip, chocolate no-bake cookies with sprinkles on top, chips and salsa and downing generously poured glasses of cheap wine because we can’t tell the difference between a $13 bottle and a $30 bottle is just good for the soul. Food is also celebration: I always choose sushi – my favourite – for birthday dinners. Food is also culture: Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without lefse, and an arena just wouldn’t be an arena without burgers. Food is also fun: think trick-or-treating and cookie decorating and the joy of trying a new recipe. Food is also comfort. It can be an offering that says “I see you in your grief.” That’s why we show up to people’s homes after a loss with fresh buns and massive pans of ultra-cheesy lasagne. Food is hope and community: take the wine-fairy and wine-ninja Facebook groups that have been popping up for example. There are women brightening one another’s days during this weird time of social distancing by secretly leaving drinks and snacks on one another’s doorsteps. Food is more than fuel: it’s family and friendship and culture and fun and comfort and hope and community, but most simply and perhaps most importantly, it’s delicious.