When Western Illinois Family Magazine editor Lisa Coon suggested that her bright band of column-jockeys might consider writing about either family dinners or Valentine's Day for February, I figured either would do just fine.
Because here's the thing.
Food means love.
They go together like shoes and socks. Salt and pepper. Batman and Robin. And, of course, Mr. Gump, peas and carrots. Or at least that was how I was raised to feel. The relationship between a giant pile of mashed potatoes and my mother's undying love for me was something I instinctively understood as a kid. Just how much she adored us all was displayed on a regular basis, as she prepared mega-amazing meals that were, as much as anything, daily love letters to her brood. And while my dad could barely boil water, open a can or find the fridge without assistance, I think the fresh green beans, potatoes, sweet corn and tomatoes he harvested from his backyard garden represented his own quiet billets-doux to the girl he loved and the hungry family they raised together.
Because food means love. And love means food.
I knew I wasn't the only one who felt that way, but I guess I was a little surprised at just how many smarter-than-me folks have commented on the phenomenon that is food and love. There are, in fact, a whole host of snappy quotes and happy reminders that support my claim, which I am delighted to borrow and share with you...
"Cooking is like love: It should be entered into with abandon or not at all." (Harriet van Horne)
"Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate." (Alan D. Wolfelt)
"It's absolutely unfair for women to say that guys only want one thing: sex. We also want food." (Jarod Kintz)
"There is no love sincerer than the love of food." (George Bernard Shaw)
"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him...the people who give you their food give you their heart." (Cesar Chavez)
"I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.” (Nora Ephron)
"Great food is like great sex. The more you have the more you want." (Gael Greene)
"There is no sight on earth more appealing than the sight of a woman making dinner for someone she loves." (Thomas Wolfe)
"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." (Charles M. Schulz)
Another of my favorite examples of the whole theory of food-love fusion came to light for me back in the early days of my career as an advertising agency guy. While just a cub-copywriter, I was tapped to attend a conference that would include presentations and workshops offered up by some of the big guns of the advertising world.
One of them was a guy named Don Tennant.
Not exactly a household name, I know. But the influence he had on modern advertising and, in fact, our entire culture was, well, pretty darn big. He was, after all, the first guy to draw Tony the Tiger. He led the creative teams that gave birth to characters and concepts like the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Green Giant, the Friendly Skies of United, and the Marlboro Man, even. At the conference, while other presenters wowed us with multi-media presentations, bold new ad campaigns and various examples of dynamic graphics, he did something a little different.
He told us a story.
He told a story about a company called Pillsbury that, right after the Second World War, came up with an absolutely revolutionary new product.
A boxed cake mix.
Trouble was, no one was buying this wonderful new product, despite the fact that it made it much easier for moms to churn out desserts for their families without having to go to all the trouble of making them from scratch.
In fact, it was too easy.
Followup research showed that those moms felt guilty about the whole idea of a cake made from a mix in a box.
So Tennant and his crew did two things.
They added an egg to the recipe, figuring rightly that including a fresh ingredient would relieve some of those guilty feelings.
And they wrote, as he put it, "a little song."
"Nothin' says Lovin' like something from the oven. And Pillsbury says it best" was how it went.
The rest, of course, is history.
Most recently, my current bout with crazy-cancer and the chemotherapy that I so dearly love, has brought new meaning to those food-love feelings for me. As is often the case, the result of the treatments I've received is a bald and skinny new me, a condition and appearance that has acted like a trumpeting call to action to my wife and her hometown pals. As we speak, there are legions of lovely Galva ladies circling the house, waiting to feed and otherwise coddle me, especially after my spouse left town for an unavoidable family commitment. Since her departure, my kitchen has filled with savory stews, piles of potatoes, sweet treats and other delectable delights, all intended to fatten me up, not unlike the Hansel half of that old, familiar folk fable.
Put simply, I've got more on hand than I'll probably ever eat, but I don't mind. Because I know they're delivering more than meatloaf, macaroni and lemon meringue pie.
They are, quite literally, leaving me some love.