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What is food for? (part 1)

Multiple purposes are often achieved with single things. By remembering that principle, we can open ourselves up to greater perspectives on the process of feeding ourselves

I have the great privilege of looking onto Table Mountain from my bedroom window. On a typical Cape Town winter morning my husband recently remarked: look, the mountain is gone. Isn’t it amazing? Just some drops of water, suspended in the air can make one of the wonders of the world disappear!

It made me think about clouds. Just some water, suspended in the air?

What about ice cream castles in the sky and candy floss and bearded men and dragons, and the canvas that the setting sun splashes its colours onto? They can ominously roll in to announce a brooding thunderstorm, or float in on a fluffy breeze, cotton balls ushering in a dreamy summer’s day. They house thunder and lighting bolts, produce rainbows of promise and can have silver linings. They water the earth and all its creatures- providing what is essential for survival.

Yes, clouds are drops of water suspended in the air…but they are so much more than that too!

The same hand that made clouds, made food. We can derive from creation, that our creator is particularly efficient. Multiple purposes are often achieved with single things. By remembering that principle, we can open ourselves up to greater perspectives on the process of feeding ourselves. It is not just about getting nutrients into our systems to perform metabolic functions, there is much, much more to it.

So what else is food for, apart from getting nutrients into our bodies?

Lets start at the very beginning, and see what the feeding relationship between a mother and her baby is for, apart from getting nutrients into the child.

Frank and Catherine Fabiano, in their book “Healing your past, releasing your future” point out how infant feeding plays an important role in human development:

As infants, when we are hungry, we experience hunger pangs from the stomach in the form of stomach contractions. These contractions cause pain. We cry to signal the hurt, we need help and need to be cared for. The mother’s job is to figure out what we need, in this case food, to meet this need. Our part is to suck and take in nourishment to so that the pain will cease. We need to learn this connection between the discomfort of hunger pangs, crying to signal the need, and sucking, during the first three months of life. As we experience this process a number of times, we make the appropriate connection to satisfying our need. We learn to solve our first and most life-threatening problem. These three aspects of the feeding process, hunger pangs, crying and sucking, are related to the three aspects of adult problem solving- feeling, thinking, doing. As we grow and mature, hunger pangs and our attention to them are transformed to a higher order. We develop an ability to recognise our feelings and do something effective about them. Crying transforms to a higher order called thinking. We can still cry about our problems, but this does not remain our primary response to them. Thinking replaces crying as the method of dealing with life’s issues. Sucking is an action. We learn that we are able to perform and act which will be effective in dealing with the issues of life.”

Feeding a baby is about getting nutrients into its little body so that it can grow, yes, but it is also about learning to feel, think and act to solve problems.

According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, feeding plays a pivotal role in the development of trust. By feeding an infant when the child is hungry, they learn that they can trust that their need for nourishment will be met. Erikson believed that early patterns of responsive feeding help children build a strong base of trust that is crucial for their social and emotional development. If a child successfully develops trust, they will feel safe and secure in the world, and will be more likely to form trusting relationships with others throughout the course of their lives.

THIS IS HUGE! Adult world view is partially shaped through the feeding process in infancy! Is the world safe? Am I safe? Can I trust the people around me?

The conversation about feeding babies has mostly centered on what to give them- breast or formula, but feeding is so much more than just getting nutrients into a body. It is about communicating, connecting, caring and nourishing. This can be done with a bottle or a breast.

Food is more than just ingredients, just as clouds are more than water drops.

Sound bite

“Joy and reward are part of eating and part of the emotional and spiritual refueling we get from our food-if we allow it- if we connect and pay attention and remain sensitive to how important it all is” Ellyn Satter

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