Eating is what we do – all the time. We have no choice, although MOST of us are fortunate, and can decide what to eat. Who doesn’t have their favorite foods? Individual tastes aside, however, there is wide agreement that certain foods have symbolic significance, represent more than just appearance taste or nutritional value and are associated with a range of emotions and cultural signals. Consider the following menu:
Bread – Because it is the “staff of life,” our “daily bread” has come to represent the basic ingredients for our survival. Even a few crumbs may help sustain us. Add butter to the bread for nourishment and symbolic sufficiency. Bread is filling; bread satisfies. Can a meal not include bread?
Soup – Comfort food that fills the stomach. Not a thin gruel but a hearty blend of solid ingredients and flavorful liquid. A bowl becomes a meal in itself. On a cold day, a perfect prescription.
Steak – In a nation of compulsive meat eaters, steak (more often for men) represents the prize, the reward, the symbol and measure of success. Find a job, get a promotion and a raise, complete a challenging task – then it’s time to cap off your good fortune with a steak dinner, cooked to your specifications, whatever the price. Sizzling, tender, juicy meat, savored slowly – what could be better or more satisfying? Add a side of mashed potatoes and you become yet another who regards “meat and potatoes” as a supreme treat.
Coffee – “Start your engines!” For million upon millions of Americans, coffee is the essential fuel, the “wake up” call for the day ahead. Demanding work? Coffee will keep you going. Long hours? With coffee you will stay awake and sharp. Need a “time out” and friendly conversation? A coffee break (minus the cigarette nowadays) will fill the bill. Count on coffee to signal the end of a meal. “A second cup?” “Yes, please.” And of course, dessert – for many, the meal’s highlight.
Ice Cream – Is there anyone who doesn’t like ice cream? Unlikely. Ice cream is the fun food, the gleeful lick and the cold comfort. Want to get kids excited or obedient? Promise them ice cream. Flavors galore, in cones, cups, on a stick or in a dish. Smooth, creamy, delicious; to be eaten on the street, in a car (can get messy) or in an ice cream parlor. Summer, of course, but all year round as well.
While few will disagree with the listings above, many will remind us about hot dogs at the ball park, burgers at a cookout, pizza at a party, etc. They will get no argument here. One meal at a time, please.