September 27, 2010
A reservation for thought

The anticipation of Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert’s visit to Indiana has switched off my auto-pilot mode of eating that we all fall into sometimes and has caused me to re-focus my culinary mind. When I found out that I would, in fact, be able to attend “An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert” at Clowes Hall on the campus of Butler University I immediately began prep work. 

I added Mr. Bourdain’s television show “No Reservations” to my Netflix instant queue and began watching from Season 1. I searched for “Top Chef” so that I could see Mr. Ripert at his finest, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find them. As a person who is considered a “foodie” by all her close friends and family, I find it a bit humiliating to admit that I chose to brush up my knowledge of these two famous and talented chefs by watching their latest appearances on TV. I also must admit that French food and its technique (the specialty and background for both of these men) has never been the focus of my personal repertoire.

But I didn’t choose to attend this event (thrown by the Indiana Humanities Council and Spirit & Place as part of the Food for Thought initiative) because I adore French food, or even these two chefs. This event is about the effect of food on so many levels—it’s beyond satisfying hunger and achieving perfect culinary technique.

Food and the culture surrounding mealtime affects and reflects our social network, our familial bond and heritage, our economy, our environment, our health, our emotional state, and so much more. Food is much more than nourishment for the body; it affects the deepest parts of us as human beings in ways not usually apparent on the surface. 

I have asked other people (and have been asked myself) many times, “What is your favorite food?” or “What would you choose if you could only have one meal for the rest of your life?” These are such hard questions with many varied answers that depend on infinite factors.  I don’t think I have ever answered the same way twice.  I find that my answers vary depending on who is asking me, what mood I am in at the time, whether or not I am hungry or full, and what my last meal was.  Food for me is not just black-and-white. It is not just one object with a definite ending to it.  It is a part of life and relationships. 

I also assert that between the food and the person consuming it is a relationship all its own.  What does that food mean to that person? What purpose is it serving at this particular moment and why? The meaning may also change through the course of the meal.  In the beginning, the food might represent needed sustenance, toward the end of the meal the food could represent sensory pleasure. But most of the time, meals give us a chance to socialize and connect to those around us.  Most cultures eat socially and with rituals and ceremonies relevant to their region or religion. And aside from the fact that we must eat to live, this is the most important aspect of food: The way it brings us together while simultaneously defining us as individuals.

Thinking about our food and mealtime culture is important because it gives us a deeper understanding of our surrounding and lets us connect as a community, both locally and world-wide. The next time you prepare a meal or sit down to one that has been prepared for you, think about its source, the manner in which it has been prepared, and what it means to you and those around you. You might be surprised by the answers.

Stephanie McDaniel enjoys cooking as a hobby, and as her profession. She also holds a degree in Sociology from Butler University.

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