What is the importance of food?
We can summarize the importance of food in one word: Life. For biological reasons, we need to feed ourselves in some way to keep our bodies running. However, as one of the most important activities for development and growth, we cannot restrict its value only to the act of eating, since it involves many other aspects such as the economy, culture, social relations, values, entertainment, health, wellness and, of course, love.
Economically speaking, food expenses imply a fixed cost in the budget of any person for his whole life. The percentage allocated to the purchase of food is generally high considering the income of low and middle class families. Not to mention that, according to the 2021 UN report, 10% of the world’s population went hungry and 30% lived on the poverty line, that is, without earning enough to guarantee adequate food for their family.
A family’s income is also directly related to the quality of the food consumed. This can be seen in the purchase of more sophisticated foods (for example, loin meat, or salmon) or even in the variety of fruits or vegetables. Ultra-processed foods are also usually part of the table of the most humble families due to their low cost (instant noodles instead of homemade noodles), however, it is worth mentioning that the publicity around them made them gain public among other higher social strata.
The problem of hunger in the world is not the lack of food, since the industry, whether livestock, agricultural or processed, is one of the largest and that moves the most money; After all, everyone needs to eat. And based on this demand, we involve food in various daily aspects that, as we said above, go far beyond the physiological need to eat.
Food on the nutritional axis and comprehensive health
Everything we eat is transformed into energy for our body. This transformation, both mechanical (chewing) and chemical (digestive enzymes) allows the fractionation of the food at a molecular level, dividing it among the different vitamins that make it up so that they can be absorbed by the cells and directed to the organs that need them. For example, iron, an element present mainly in dark green meats and vegetables, is essential for blood cells and its lack in our body leads to a process known as anemia, which causes the body to lack energy to carry out fully its functions.
Food is the key not only to good biological functioning but also to a healthy life, and we can see its reflections from the intrauterine environment to our later years. A study published in the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics in 2016 reports an eight-fold increased risk of developing diabetes in children/adolescents whose mothers had gestational diabetes. Once outside the womb, food can be related to various diseases, and what will determine whether it is good or bad for our health is a simple factor: Quantity.
Eating too much sugar and fat is linked to the development of diabetes and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol). The nitrate (preservative) present in processed foods such as bacon and ham is related as a risk factor for the appearance of cancer, however, the natural nitrate present in leafy foods can prevent it.
The answer to the question of what makes a food useful to you lies in the variety consumed (so that all the vitamins and minerals are present in the right amounts) and in the balance. Eating a sweet, a hot dog, drinking a soft drink, are not the exceptions that will harm us, but the excesses. No one has to deprive themselves of a delicious and more nutrient-poor food as long as it is not part of the food routine and is not directly related to anything that affects the body immediately (such as specific allergies and intolerances).
Cultural identity and food
We have 193 countries around the globe divided into continents and regions, and each of these exposes a particular climatic, political and socioeconomic performance, whose local populations are forced to adapt and, thus, establish their food references over the years. Places near the ocean have a diet based on fish and shellfish, cold places eat a lot of pickled roots, etc.
Basically, food is part of the local culture. This heritage, often passed down from generation to generation, is directly linked to the life of that people and begins to influence the identity of that people.
Noodles became popular as an Italian dish in the same way that sushi became popular in Japanese cuisine. In England we have the popular fish and chips , that is, fish and potatoes, in Germany sausages, and Indian cuisine has become famous for its condiments. These are recognized examples of the cultural association of dishes with a country.
There are countless typical dishes that, even using the same ingredients, completely change the way they are prepared and presented. Today it is much easier to travel, without referring to the tourist part, which is also closely related to food, but in the sense that the transport of ingredients from one place to another in short spaces of time has been facilitated. Likewise, migratory processes transfer restricted culinary customs to a region to conquer the world. It is the possibility of eating something typical of other countries in our city or even in our house.
Food is also a way of expressing our beliefs and values. When we turn to the spiritual part, we can identify the religious influence, as well as the myths and dogmas transferred directly to the kitchen. There is a great symbology that relates food with religious practice, constituting forms of respect and obedience. Jews and Muslims follow various shared food laws, for example, the prohibition of the consumption of pork. In Hinduism the cow is sacred and its consumption is prohibited, some castes are even vegetarian. The Hare Krishna movement, for its part, in addition to vegetarianism, does not consume plants with a strong aroma such as garlic, onion, chives, because they can arouse sexual desire. in christianity, bread is sacred and consecrated in various religious rituals such as the Holy Supper and the Eucharist.
We use food as a form of protest. Strict vegetarianism, that is, not consuming anything of animal origin, is a way of showing the world opposition to animal exploitation. Also, the purchase of products only from small producers, the boycott of certain brands that promote deforestation, etc. Our lifestyle is expressed in many ways and often allows us to create a voice to fight for change.
Social interaction and entertainment
Eating is pleasant and that is why we love sharing this experience so much. It is possible to connect a totally random group through a common factor, thus allowing social interaction in an interpersonal way. Socially speaking, food plays a prominent role in social relations, since while we share the table it is possible to develop a multitude of interactions such as meeting, talking, letting off steam, celebrating, among many other things. A first date in a cafeteria or making a proposal in that romantic restaurant, a meeting with friends, happy hour after work, a business dinner. Examples of social encounters in this setting abound, and for one simple reason: food facilitates communication .
Food is also a way of expressing love. When we analyze a family gathering, which can be a Sunday lunch, we notice the care with which the person who is going to cook chooses the recipe, the ingredients, the preparation of the dish, seeking to please those present. This lunch creates an emotional memory, which is accessed every time the dish is enjoyed with or without the family. In a broader way, we can imagine the same level of detail in a wedding party, where the psychosocial care in the selection of the menu does not seek to create an unforgettable moment only for the bride and groom but also for the guests.
Currently, gastronomy is synonymous with entertainment. Reality shows with famous chefs, videos on online platforms, magazines, books, etc., all dedicated to amateur cooking with a professional air that any skilled person can enter, previously restricted to chefs. The demand to participate in this world is increasing among lovers of good food, and thus, the preparation is valued and the food acquires a special flavor.