Food is fuel.
I’ve never understood people who say this.
Have they never cracked the top of a creme brulée and spooned the sweet, creamy custard deep into their mouth, coating their tongue with its goodness? Have they never slurped a briny, salty oyster and followed it up with a refreshing sip of bright, white, coastal wine? Have they missed out on the sheer pleasure of gently placing a pillowy bao bun between their lips and tasting the savoury, sweet, umami goodness inside?
They must not have.
I would never refer to food as simply “fuel”, and I have a hunch you’re with me because you’re reading this.
With this monthly column, I will take you with me as we explore food and how it is so much more than simply fuel for our bodies. Having said that, let’s not diminish its magical powers as a life-giving force that keeps us alive — because that’s obviously a pretty big deal — unless you ask a Breatharian.
Come with me as we explore questions like, why espresso martinis are back on the menu. Or why more and more chefs are sober now, and many of them are waking up early to go for a run. Let’s discuss food as a vehicle for social change, or how food and drink show up in art, literature, and film. Let’s talk to someone who opened their restaurant during the pandemic, and let’s also talk to someone who had to close.
To start us off, I’ll share a story about a time when food was there for me in the past year.
A year ago this month, I was informed by the owner of my rental that her promise to someday sell the condo had become real. I had 60 days to vacate and pack up 11 years of my life. I immediately started scouring Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji for new places for myself and my handsome 12-year-old canine companion, Eddie, to continue to cohabitate.
Eddie wasn’t having the best year. Like any debonair senior gentleman, his body had started to fail him in old age, and unfortunately, his mind had followed suit. He had developed something called CDD: Canine Dementia Disorder. He was not himself.
It’s been said that aside from public speaking or divorce, one of the most stressful things you can experience is moving. I’ve never been divorced (I’ve never been married), and I actually enjoy public speaking, so for me, the process of moving shot to #1. That is until I started to see Eddie decline more and more each day.
During this time, I was fighting with the daily pressures of life we all face, including everyone’s new best friend, Zoom fatigue. Top off this stress sundae with a sprinkle of chronic depression and a shiny red anxiety cherry, and you have my life last October. I needed help just getting through the day. So, like Westley in The Princess Bride, along came food to the rescue, saying “as you wish” to whatever I needed.
I knew, from years of dedicated practice, that the only thing that could help me now was a giant bowl of pasta and an even larger glass of wine. I boiled the water and salted it liberally like I’ve been told to do by so many real-life and TV chefs. I heated a pan and poured in a glug of olive oil and a handful of minced shallots and garlic. I breathed in the garlic as it simmered in the shiny, golden oil. Next came a mound of vegetables, a few capers, and a splash of lemon juice. After draining the pasta, I added it to the pan, tossed it, and then transferred it to a large bowl, the noodles cascading like a waterfall of carbs. Salt and pepper, fresh basil, and a heavy snowfall of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and I was ready to tuck in.
As I began to twirl the pasta around my fork, I already felt better. With each bite, my anxiety started to shrink, like when a person becomes smaller and smaller as you walk further away from them. The salt of the cheese danced on my tastebuds and the steam from the bowl was like a cleansing fog that lifted my mood. Eddie, never a big counter-surfer, waited patiently on the couch for the tiny piece of cheese that was too small to grate that I had set aside for him.
After the bowl was empty, and the last drop of wine had been drunk, I felt like any of us do when we dive deep into the vices that make us feel better: numb, satisfied, healed.
When the haze of carb-coma started to lift, my first thought drifted to that classic Britney quote “Oops… I did it again”, which put me on the usual shame spiral with which I had become so familiar. Fat Bastard so clearly illustrated this in the Austin Powers films when he said, “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat.” Oh, the joyous, vicious cycle of using food as a coping mechanism.
The next day I woke up and went back into the world of boxes, vet bills, and Zoom.
A month later, when the move was finally done and my sweet boy Eddie had gone over the rainbow bridge, I spent my first night in the new apartment. It felt so empty and quiet without my boy. I went out to grab a few groceries and came back to enjoy a simple cheese plate and some fresh veggies. I couldn’t help but nab a mini Prosecco bottle on my way home to christen this new place, this new chapter. As I listened to the skateboarders whizz by on the street down below, I looked at the boxes surrounding me and told myself I’d start unpacking tomorrow.
For now, I would sip my Prosecco and savour my cheese. This simple plate of food would not only energize me for the day of unpacking that was ahead, but also for the day after that, and the day after that. It was more than just calories, vitamins, and nutrients. It was a fresh start, a new chapter, a housewarming celebration.
Cut to a year later, I’m loving my new neighbourhood and I have a dog-sitting side hustle. I still miss Eddie every day, but I hope he’s enjoying some really expensive cheese in dog-heaven. Also, not surprisingly, my lifelong appreciation for food in all its forms has not ceased. To say I am very interested in food is to say that comedians are very interested in laughter.
As I said, it’s more than just sustenance — food is everything. The flavour, the ceremony, the artistry of it all. How it connects us, how it shapes our identity, how it touches every part of our lives and the world around us. So please – join me on my balcony, where I can be found most evenings lately, even as the weather is starting to chill. Grab a blanket and a stiff drink and let’s raise a glass to food.
Speaking of raising a glass, next month I’ll be sharing a story about wine and the people who buy it, supply it, and love it. See you then.