Dig In: The Hidden Meaning of Food

Food (\ˈfüd\), n.the things that people and animals eat. According to Webster, these seven words suffice as meaning. This is not to say it is a bad definition; it is entirely accurate if not pleasantly simple. But as human beings, we know it merely scratches the surface. Food is complex. It is probably 80 adjectives deep. At the most basic level, it provides us the necessary nutrients for our body to function. Without it, of course, we would die. But at its deepest level, it is perhaps the most universal element of our shared humanity. Our oldest thinkers alluded to food in their philosophical positions, our earliest ancestors experimented and toiled with new cooking methods, and today, our food is embraced by many societies around the world and still coveted by others. The story of food, in other words, is the story of us.


Across the globe, cultures are defined and shaped by the food we eat and vice versa. It is hard to imagine a visit to Dublin without consideration of how to get your hands on Irish soda bread. In LA? You better get tacos. And just what does poutine taste like? Go to Canada and find out, and don’t forget about Tim Horton’s.

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking differently about food. It’s something we interact with every day, yet its true meaning is stuffed somewhere beneath the vitamins and nutrients. Sometimes we are so consumed, no pun intended, by the intricacies of daily life that a frozen TV dinner stuffed in the microwave will suffice.

But think about your most vivid memories. Consider the moments spent laughing, crying, and arguing with your family and friends. They nearly always involve, you guessed it, food. Over Thanksgiving dinner. At your favorite restaurant. Celebrating a graduation. In your grandma’s house. A romantic dinner on the waterfront. We carefully consider the menu for our most meaningful celebrations — think weddings and birthdays. The high school kid meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time? It’ll be over dinner. The aroma of fresh garlic browning on a stovetop can bring a smile to the grumpiest of grumps. Our deepest emotions are spilled on the tables on which we eat. We propose to people over food, break up with people over food, and mourn together over food. In some places food is nowhere to be found. Consider that.

When you notice this, and I’m hoping that you will, you will come to understand the power food has. Your family inevitably has recipes that have been handed down through generations, each with just the right amount of alteration so that they remain unique. Find them. Try them. Cook with your significant others. Surprise your mom with her favorite dish. Treat your friends to that new restaurant down the street.

Do not look as food as a bundle of calories and carbs. Maintain a healthy diet, yes, but realize it is so much more. It is one of the few things on Earth that every person, from every corner, from every background and every ideology can relate to.

Dig in.