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Food and Love

When I was younger, I often wished that my mom’s parents were the sort of grandparents who gave me cookies when I visited. I thought it might help me feel like they cared about me. Whatever their feelings were, giving me cookies was the last thing they would do, critical as they were of my weight.

Then there are holidays like Valentine’s Day. With chocolate abounding everywhere, as well as heart-shaped and red-colored foods and restaurant offerings for couples, I feel like I’m being bombarded with the idea that food and love are synonymous. Contrarily, those who are trying to lose weight are told to remember that food is not a substitute for love. But how are we to remember that, when so much reminds us that the two are inextricably entwined?

I was thinking about this particularly in relation to some commercials for Jif peanut butter. One shows a strapping young dad industriously hammering away at a treehouse for his daughter. She, seeing all his work, goes into the kitchen and solemnly makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for him (with Jif, of course). When she offers it up on a plate, he’s touched. “For me?” “It’s what you always make for me,” she points out. (Or words to that effect.) And then we’re reminded that “Choosy Moms (and Dads) choose Jif.” Another shows a young women at college receiving a care package from her mother, part of which includes a container of Jif peanut butter.

The implication, of course, is that these parents show their love through use of food, specifically Jif. There are also commercials for Cheerios that advocate the importance of eating whole grains to be “heart healthy”. The sub-text is that it’s not only the physical heart involved, but also the feelings of the heart. You wouldn’t give someone a box of Cheerios to eat for breakfast if you didn’t love them.

While these are clever advertising campaigns, I don’t think anyone can deny that part of the way we show someone we love them is the food we share. If it’s someone we don’t care about, we might just throw whatever together and call it good. But if it’s someone we love, or want to impress, we cook attentively, taking care with every detail, pouring love into the creation of the food in the hopes that it will come through.

The tragedy is that those who are overweight are often denied this. Many times I, at least, was uncomfortable sharing meals with people, whether loved or not, instead experiencing guilt and anxiety, wondering if their feelings would change or be disappointed by seeing what went into my mouth. Even if I could let myself enjoy the moment, later I agonized over it, berating myself for succumbing to the temptation of a shared meal, knowing it would mean added pounds and even more focus on my weight.

What I would love to see is a change in attitude. Not how we prepare food for or with those we care about – that, I believe, is intrinsic to being human. Rather, it would be wonderful to remove the stigma attached to eating for those who are overweight, so that they don’t feel that sense of loneliness or guilt, and can instead experience the deep joy of sharing something as necessary and delectable as food with those they love.

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