Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Opulence of Food.

What is it about food that makes it a status symbol?

We're at the end of summer--the season of celebrations, vacations, holidays, and dinner on the grounds and headed into the Autumn plethora of sports events, more holidays, and even more celebrations.  It's the time when we Southern Belles break out our best potluck recipes, while our friends from up North say, "I wish I could cook like that." Bless their hearts.  Summer is a smattering of barbeques, wedding receptions, baby shower goodies, and pool parties.  Autumn is replete with football parties, fall festivals, and school functions. All of which display an opulent cascade of cakes, pies, candy, hot wings, casseroles, various recipes for the perfect piece of fried chicken, sodas, iced tea sweet enough to pour over pancakes, lemonade that will have you licking your eyebrows, and, of course, Kool-aid.  Oh yeah!

For normal people this is a time of enjoying the rich flavors, sights, and sounds around them.  For the food addict, it's a mine field of temptation, failure, and depression.

This is not a criticism or rant (I don't think), but an observation.

So why does food represent wealth?

I grew up in a house where the two menu options are "take it or leave it."  I ate what was cheap and filling--good southern cooking.  My free lunch at school was the same--filling and inexpensive (and, no, I do NOT agree with the First Lady's "I hate fat kids campaign" of starving kids through their school lunches.)  Trips to fast food restaurants were a once in a blue moon event, not a daily pit stop.  We didn't have much junk food in the house.  Back then, junk food was more expensive than the basic staples, some chicken, and vegetables out of a can or from our garden.  My, how times have changed.

As a broke college student, "food" was a relative term.  We'd eat soap if we thought it would keep us awake and alive long enough to make it to Friday.  Just for the record, I never ate soap, but I did eat notebook paper once when I ran out of food.  Ramen noodles and Sam's Cola were cheap delicacies, and the all-you-can eat buffet at the cafeteria didn't present any healthy choices, or at least I couldn't find them.  The rich kids ate out all the time.  We only ate out the day the grant checks came in or when we foolishly signed up for credit cards so we could big ball at Quincy's. 
Big ballin' - v.  To pretend to have riches by flaunting high dollar items or making large purchases for others to see whether you can afford them or not--usually not.
After graduation, working jobs with salaries not fitting with my education (or the debt I'd racked up), led to more "take it or leave it" choices.  By then, junk food was extremely cheap and being obese seemed to be "poverty normal." 

But is it?

Rich decadent foods are not labeled as such because they are on fancy menus from restaurants with unpronounceable names way off in New York, but because of their contents and the "labor of love" (read kitchen martyrs) that came from our own kitchens.

If you think it's merely a Southern thing, your deluding yourself.

The word opulent means, "wealthy, rich, or affluent."  While it should show more opulent to create healthy dishes because they are more expensive and often require more creativity for preparation, hardy ever a nose is turned up at inexpensive meals with just the right combination of sugar, salt, and fat.  But people look at you like you've lost your mind if you bring a nice salad to a pot luck.  "Is THAT all you brought?"  *sigh*

It has taken me nearly 40 years to accept the paradigm shift that healthy food is more opulent that unhealthy choices.  I'm not a downer on other people's food or fun and I like good tasting food.  However, I don't have to let people try to love me to death with food and get upset because I don't say yes to everything.  That is not the only way to show the richness of love, in fact, for someone like me, it is usually quite the opposite.  I don't feel loved; I feel pressured.  It's like some people are saying, "Please don't get healthy.  People will think my cooking's no good."

Just think about it.

Boy, this may not get me invited to eat anymore.  :(

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