“If music be the food of love, play on” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
It’s a lovely line – and I can see why everyone knows it – but as much as I like music, I’m going to have to disagree with old Bill on this one. Music is not the way to a person’s heart: food is.
We’ve heard the ancient saying that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. This, being slightly demeaning to both men and women, isn’t quite what I’m going for. Food can be a gesture, an activity, an expression. You cook for the people you love, you eat with the people you love, and by sharing food you’re often sharing feeling too. For me, food and affection are obvious partners. If my friend is feeling down, the best way I can think to cheer them up is to make a batch of brownies for them. Or maybe invite them round for a home-cooked meal. Even just buying them a bar of their favourite chocolate. It’s a sign of caring.
And there are loads of ways of feeding love with food. Each night when I was growing up, my mum would cook for the family. Okay, she did it out of necessity partly, but I’m sure that if she didn’t channel a bit of love into it, we wouldn’t have ended up with such great food. Likewise when I cook for my family now, seeing them enjoy the meal makes me really happy. It’s an exchange, and for us – a bunch who don’t get sentimental often – it’s an everyday way of saying ‘I love you’. Sort of.
Then, of course, there’s the romantic gesture. The effort you put into a meal cooked for your other half will always mean far more than picking up the bill at a restaurant. When I cook for my boyfriend, I want to make it as tasty as possible because, like with my family, seeing him enjoy it makes me really happy. And when my boyfriend cooks for me, I feel so much appreciation. Feeding someone, for some reason, is a really powerful gesture which brings a smile to both parties. Though I must say, our favourite thing is to cook together. It’s a different sort of foody love, and we get to share the fun when we do it.
The most important one – though for many the least obvious – is feeding yourself and cooking for yourself with love. It wasn’t until my final year of uni that I realised food was my biggest form of ‘self-love’. I stopped feeling silly about putting lots of effort into something only I was going to eat, and embraced it. It made me happy – a gesture to myself that I could enjoy in the making and the eating.
To put an end to all this soppy talk, what I’m getting at is that food is not just food. It can be exchanged, shared and prepared with a host of meanings, and has been a demonstration of affection and care for as long human relationships have existed. So – and I’ve thought long and hard about this – I think my version of Shakespeare’s line would be something like this:
“If cooking be the food of love, eat on.”