Word of mouth
Why food is probably the most mood-altering substance around...
Last week I wrote about the kind of woman I could imagine being best mates with. And how I couldn’t possibly be friends with a woman who refused to break bread – yes, literally – with me. To be honest, I’ve always thought this to be something of a personal idiosyncrasy; my obsession with classifying people by what they do or do not eat. But going by the contents of my mail box, I am coming around to the view that I am not alone in judging people by their relationship to food. As the cliché goes: you are what you eat.
Speaking for myself, I believe that food is the most powerful mood-altering substance around. What I eat or drink has a direct connection with how I feel. And how I feel has a direct co-relation with what I want to eat.
When I’m feeling a bit blah about the world, nothing cheers me up more instantly than a quick-fix of chocolate. On particularly stressful days, a judicious dose of carbohydrates can have a calming effect. And there’s nothing to beat the caffeine rush of a cold Diet Coke on a warm summer day.
But just as a good meal can have me burping with satisfaction for days afterwards, there’s nothing quite like a bad meal to put me in a vile mood for the rest of the day. First of all, there’s the opportunity lost, a meal that I will never ever get to enjoy again. Then, there’s the small matter of all those empty calories that have been consumed without any concomitant pleasure.
Small wonder then that I am always so disgruntled at the end of a bad meal – and as hungry as when I began eating. No matter how many calories I have scoffed, if the food doesn’t satisfy my taste buds, it doesn’t assuage my hunger pangs either. So, after a dissatisfying meal, I invariably end up eating another meal to make up for the first.
And then begins the self-loathing. What was I thinking? How could I possibly have eaten a sandwich after that three-course French meal? How could I have come back home and stuffed my face with chocolate after dining at a friend’s house? Why on earth can’t I just let one bad meal go?
But no matter how hard I try to resist, food continues to exert its visceral hold on me.
It’s funny how this stuff works. I must have a steaming cup of coffee beside me before I feel ready to power up my laptop and begin to work. But slip a sandwich into the mix and suddenly all I want to do is surf endlessly through all the trashier news sites on the internet. Somehow in my mind coffee equals work but coffee plus food equals mindless surfing.
Similarly, I don’t really feel like I am on holiday unless I can order a really sinful treat for my room service breakfast (think French toast, pancakes, waffles, or anything that can induce a sugar rush). But once I’m at home, it doesn’t feel right eating anything other than organic muesli with low-fat milk first thing in the morning.
In times of stress I long for the comfort food of my childhood, the nursery delights of nostalgia. The bread pakoras of the school canteen; the mashed potato toasties mum would make for an evening snack; the frosted cupcakes that were served at every birthday party; the illicit chaat that I had sneak away to eat. Just a tiny mouthful of any of these is enough to transport me back to the safe, secure haven of my school days.
I only have to plop one oversized, overflowing puchhka in my mouth to be transported back to my days in Calcutta when we would stand at the balcony for hours waiting for our favourite vendor to come trotting by (there was just something about his water mix!). Unfortunately, I have never found a puchhkawalla to match his skills in all the years since.
There’s nothing that makes me obsess more about food, though, than being on a diet. That’s when I begin to dream about such high-calorie treats as a greasy biryani, a creamy risotto, fluffy puris, full-fat ice-cream, baked cheesecake, and icy-cold magnums of champagne.
Ah, champagne! There’s nothing quite like a bit of bubbly to elevate an utterly ordinary meal into a memorable occasion. In fact, Sunday brunch at a fancy restaurant never seems quite right without copious quantities of champagne (or Prosecco or any other sparkling wine). There is just something so celebratory about the loud pop as the bottle is opened, the hiss of the wine as it hits the glass, the frothy bubbles that always threaten to spill over and stain the table-cloth, and that first sip that hits the roof of your mouth with memories of great meals past.
Ah, happy days!