We’ve all heard the term “You are what you eat”. It’s a simple way of saying that if you eat poorly – like living on a diet of fast food and processed ingredients – your health will suffer. On the other hand, if you eat a diet filled with fresh ingredients prepared well, you will have a well-nourished body and mind.
(*Did You Know? This phrase can be taken even more literally in the animal kingdom. The diet of some animals determines their colouring, like the beautiful Flamingo. While they are born with grey feathers, a diet of brine shrimp can turn them pink.)
But have you heard this phrase?
“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
While it sounds quite similar, it’s meaning is not at all the same. This phrase comes from the book: The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
Breakfasts from around the world! (Image credit Seriouseats.com and Food.ndtv.com).
What Brillat-Savarin was getting at is that our food choices say a great deal about us. They hint at our heritage and family history. They can distinguish an adventurer from someone who prefers familiar comforts. They can show our values: a beauty standard of thinness; a desire for convenience; a healthy active lifestyle, or; a dedication to religious traditions.
Food is often a reflection of social and economic status. For example, someone who grew up in challenging economic circumstances will likely prepare different dishes than someone who came from affluent circumstances. Our food choices can also be an expression of our aspirations. For instance, a person with a desire to achieve a luxurious lifestyle might make more of an effort to learn about haute cuisine than someone who prefers bonding with their community over large dinners. It can also lay bare our fears, anxieties, and prejudices. In this case a person might avoid a particular ethnic cuisine because one holds a poor opinion of the people of that cultural background.
And food choices often tell us a great deal about the person’s personal motivations. When James Bond, the inimitable 007, orders his martini, he explicitly instructs: “Shaken, not stirred.” This is entirely contrary to what a martini connoisseur would order. But James Bond will walk into the most elegant luxury establishment and give this instruction. He is a man of confidence. He doesn’t care what people think. This is a man that knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to reach out and grasp it.
When King George the 6th of England and his wife Elizabeth came to visit President Roosevelt at the White House in 1939, they were served hot dogs at a picnic. This highlighted the difference in culture between these two countries. It showed the King and Queen that America embraced simplicity and informality. The common food of the common people was acceptable to all.
Next time you fill your plate or join others for a meal, take a moment to observe and reflect on the decisions made and let your mind explore the possible stories being told.