food and spice and whether it’s nice

The place food has in my life has got me into trouble with people, and I guess it’s time I wrote about it…

I like/ love/ dislike food items just like anyone else. Some choices are common with others, some are different. I love dark chocolate, spicy food, bananas, ice cream…and I dislike mangoes, peanuts… I have a good appetite, and I indulge in it easily because I am underweight and remain so despite the amounts I eat.

So far, so good. Where I have a problem is the place I give food and related emotions a place when interacting with others, and this often makes people think I am being ‘difficult’, to say the least. Here’s an old episode of one interaction that amazed me, but what was even more stunning was the reaction of my friends…

This was around 15 years ago, when I had a severe allergy condition that expressed itself by skin eruptions to some kinds of food. One of the triggering culprits was cauliflower.

One day, my mother (she was fit and healthy then) invited me for lunch, and one of the dishes she cooked was cauliflower. I ate the rest, and skipped the cauliflower, and she noticed.

Mother: Why haven’t you taken that dish? It is good.

Me: I have discovered that cauliflower triggers my skin allergy, you know, the one I had last week. Even the doctor said I should avoid all vegetables of that family. I’ve served myself all the other dishes.

Mother: You should take cauliflower. It is a good vegetable. I’ve cooked it well.

Me: Yes, I’m sure, but I don’t want to get the allergy. It is very painful.

Mother: It would make me very happy if you take it.

Me (after a pause): If you know that cauliflower gives me allergy, and that the allergy is painful, how can my eating that dish make you happy? If I eat it, I will get eruptions on my skin again–will that make you happy?

Mother: Cauliflower is a good vegetable. I like it, and I like people to eat what I like and what I cook. It makes me happy.

Me: So you want me to eat it even though I am allergic to it?

Mother: How can cauliflower harm anyone? You should eat it.

Well, I did not eat it, and she was upset for days. I assumed my stand was clear and reasonable–eating something known to harm me was a no-no.  I did not expect anyone to take something that harms them because of me.  So my mother getting upset with me upset me in turn. Here’s one friend said about the incident when I described it to her.

Friend: Your mother loves you, so she wants to share with you. You could have had a bit to keep her happy.

Me: But if someone decides that they will be happy only if I do something that harms me, how is that love?

Friend: Cooking and feeding people is love. What your mother asked was nothing odd. You should have at least tried it, maybe you would like it.

Me: But I’m allergic–

Friend:  Think of how bad she felt.

Intrigued, I tried it on a few others–some thought I had been downright mean by not eating what my mother cooked with so much love, some said I should have taken at least a bit, or pretended to, instead of breaking my mother’s heart for my selfish needs.

Such ‘love’ baffles me. I think love involves respecting the person being loved, and wanting them to be happy.

I have lots of great memories of my mother’s love and nurture. Like, when she drove 40 km to buy me rafia of the shade I needed for a project, or spent hours tossing dice and noting the readings to help me on a statistics project, or took long, chatty walks with me, or hunted for books she knew I liked to read. There were nights she sat with me, and we stared at the stars.She talked of her childhood, her traumas, her joys, and I felt a connection that cannot be described.

But trying to serve me cauliflower after knowing it caused me allergy is love? Nah.

I admit eating is an essential part of life, and so, therefore, are feeding and cooking. Traditionally, cooking has been used to show nurture, love, and concern, and coaxing someone to eat till they burst is what good hostesses must do.  I even know people who opposed inter-community and inter-country marriages of their kids because the other family would eat differently. There are studies that show that families that eat together, stay together, and that children who have dinner with their parents are less likely to knife you for your wallet, or something of that sort.

Food, of course, is also an ultimate bribe. Do well in the test? You get chocolate. By the time you grow up, food is comfort, food is love, and not having the favorite dessert can induce all sort of deprivation symptoms. Then you spend the rest of the years dieting and forcing yourself not to eat chocolates and desserts and whatever else makes you feel loved, pampered, and happy 🙂

Frankly, I think we carry it too far when we assume that someone who cooks has some sort of a right to make you eat what has been cooked just because care was taken while cooking.

Suppose I rephrase the incident, and tell a friend:

My mother bought a knife and she wanted me to scratch my arm with it because she thought it was a good thing to do, and she had taken great care to buy a really good knife. The knife was her love for me.

Would my friend have said: you know, you should have scratched your arm if it made your mother happy. That’s what knives are always bought for: showering love. Maybe you would have liked scratching yourself.

I can almost see some readers protesting, but it’s not the same thing! That was food, this is something obviously harmful. If someone is so loving, why can’t you adjust a bit?

Yes, I know…I do feel differently about food and cooking and imposed cooking…

Maybe that’s my excuse to not cook elaborate meals for guests or even my own family 🙂

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India. I have also been a dementia caregiver for well over a decade, and am deeply concerned about dementia care in India; on this blog I share my personal caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care. For structured information on dementia, for discussions, tools and tips on caregiving issues, for resources in India, and for caregiver interviews, please check my website (or its Hindi version, For videos on dementia caregiving (English and Hindi), check the youtube channel here.

3 Responses to food and spice and whether it’s nice

  1. Jenue says:

    Oh dear, all this drama about food. I wouldn’t have eaten the cauliflower either, Swapna. The list of foods that my husband will not eat include: eggs, milk, cheese, fish, any meats with bones, any meats with skin, asparagus, duck, lamb… The first year of marriage was frustrating but I’ve learned to live with it.

    My mother and grandmother will feed anyone and everyone that visits. My grandmother is especially offended if you don’t eat her food. It’s a culture thing and I’ve noticed that I’ve started to do the same thing when I have guests. I’m programmed to think that hospitality equals food. I have to deprogram myself 🙂

  2. austere says:

    Good about the cauliflower- I wouldn’t have either. I’ve found that most people understand when you remove portions for health reasons from the plate before eating.

  3. Anand says:

    Hi Swapna, I too get bugged when people force you to eat when you have had enough (of the food and of them too!). On one such occasion, I tried to reason with them saying – Look, we have input, process, output. Imagine that whatever you say about the ‘input’ you were to say about the ‘output’ too…

    ” I will be disappointed of you don’t eat ..”
    “OK, give me company, just for once …”
    “So what if you have just eaten at home, you can eat here too ….”
    “Last time also you refused to eat because you were in a hurry …”
    ‘When I come to your house next time, I also wont eat ..”
    “My wife prepared this specially for you …”
    “This is our house speciality…”
    “You are such a poor eater !!”
    ” A young man like you should be able to eat it …”

    and so on …

    Needless to say, the humour was not appreciated, but then no food was plied on the plate to be wasted either. [ Another of my favourite sayings – I would rather waste food on the plate than inside me ..}

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