What Does Your Favourite Food Say About You?
Shortly before the commencement of module two, during my exciting journey of learning Transactional Analysis, our trainer, Rosemary Napper, asked us to go back in time to when we were six or seven years old and recall what was our favourite food. We were then to bring enough of this favourite food to the training session that weekend to allow each member of our group to taste a small portion. We were not to talk or discuss this amongst ourselves beforehand and wait till the designated day and time when we will share this food together in a planned exercise.
I was intrigued. In module two we were going to explore in more detail The Child Ego State. Shortly after reading Rosemary’s WhatsApp instructions I immediately rubberbanded to the age of six years old. I was living with my paternal grandmother, whom I called Teita,in Tripoli, Lebanon. Two memories came to mind connected with two of my favourite foods from that time.
My first memory was of Teita making us Riz Bil Haleeb (the Lebanese take on rice pudding). I remember that it took an awfully long time to make and involved endless standing by the stove and stirring the milk, rice and sugar mixture for hours on end. My two cousins, Teita and myself would take turns to stir the pot, each of us putting in their share of the work, while chatting about nothing and everything. This went on until the mixture thickened and Teita was satisfied that it was the right consistency. At this point Teita would take half of it and pour it equally into ready set dessert bowls, which will be cooled down first at room temperature then in the fridge. The other half she would then pour into a round metal tray and bake in the oven until golden brown. In the meantime we were allowed to scrape and eat bits of the delicious sticky pudding that clung to the pot after all these hours of stirring. It was heavenly delicious!
My second memory was of waking up early in the morning to a faint sweet smell that wafted into the bedroom from the kitchen. I would get out of bed and, like someone in a trance, would walk and follow the trail of smell into the kitchen where I would find Teita standing at the stove and dipping her right hand into a gooey batter that she had prepared the night before, and squeeze a ball of it through her fist, scooping the ball with a spoon with her left hand and lowering it into in a pan with hot oil where it would sizzle for few minutes. Once the ball turned golden brown Teita would scoop it up with a slotted spoon and dip it in sugar syrup before it was finally set on a serving plate. These were called Awamat, a word that literally means floats, since the balls were airy, light and crispy. They were to be eaten while still warm and tasted out of this world! This also took some time, during which I would watch Teita skilfully do her job while chatting to her amicably. Soon my cousins would wake up and we would all sit together and enjoy these sweet dumplings made with love.
Remembering those two favourite foods and playing those memories in my mind’s eye like a movie, brought on an unexpected flood of tears. It reminded me of what a loving, nurturing and giving woman my grandmother was and how much sharing and caring happened while we cooked and ate together. I wondered whether my love of sweet things, especially if they were home made, had anything to do with these childhood experiences.
The day came when we were finally allowed to reveal, talk about and share our favourite foods from the age of six or seven years old. Not so surprisingly we shared more than just food. We shared also sensitive memories with a huge emotional content that brought on floods of tears or roars of laughter. For some of us the food symbolised a statement about our individuality and personal freedom. For others it linked to family dynamics, conflict and even rebellion. For some it was about health and vitality, and for others about love and connection. The huge range of emotions that were connected to our favourite food amazed me.
Interestingly, later that evening, my daughter and I met and ate at a restaurant nearby and to my amazement I had no desire whatsoever to have a dessert. Surprising because I almost always want to have dessert. I usually skip the starter and sometimes half of my main meal in order to sample the dessert. Not wanting to have a sweet treat that evening was extremely unusual for me, and it made me think whether there was any connection to what we explored in that exercise about our favourite food earlier that afternoon.
For as long as I remember I had a sweet tooth. I love to discover and taste desserts or sweet treats from around the world, especially if they are home made. There is a feel good factor involved for me in this ritual. I only understood this feel good factor when I did the exercise with the group under the guidance of our group leader Rosemary. I understood that somehow on a deep emotional level my love for sweets was entangled with my feelings of being loved, cared for, nurtured and protected by my grandmother. A mouthful of homemade cake was a dose of Teita’s love. I also realised that in my life I was and still am demonstrating similar behaviour to Teita’s around cooking and sharing with my loved ones. My chocolate brownies have been baked and shared a hundred times and more, on many happy occasions and with many family members, friends and acquaintances. I am spreading the love.
What to eat or not to eat was never an issue for me until I reached menopause and discovered that the upheaval in my hormonal balance meant paying close attention to what I put into my body. This meant not being able to indulge in eating sweet things the way I used to. My head understood this but my soul struggled with it. After doing the exercise in module two, I had a deeper understanding of the reasons behind my struggle. This understanding helped me gain more control over the amount of sweet treats I consume. It was no longer a struggle but a conscious choice. I wonder how many people out there have such an emotional connection with food and what exploring that connection will mean to their lifestyle.
Therefore I invite you to do the same exercise. Take a moment and go back in time to when you were six or seven years old. What was your favourite food then? How did you eat it? When did you eat? Did you eat alone? Or did you eat it with others? What do you love about it? Do you still love it and eat it in the here and now? You don’t need to explore this alone. You can do it with friends and have them also bring a sample of their favourite food. Taste theirs and let them taste yours. Share the stories, memories and discoveries connected with your favourite food. Explore and have fun together. Who knows what you will discover and what changes this might bring into other aspects of your life.