Do Our TOEs Need to Go on a Diet?
The sweet, sugary, honey-coated terms of endearment we slather on loved ones
Some of my most creative ideas pop into my head when I’m at the gym. Take today, for example. As I stood outside the group exercise room waiting for one class to end and mine to begin, my friend Tammy charged out of the room, crimson braids swinging, big and beautiful in her sweat and exertion, as she passed me I called hello and she yelled back in a voice that carried clear out to the lobby, “HEY, PUMPKIN!” Pumpkin. That’s the pet name my mother has called me since I was a little girl and today, nearly 60 years later, every phone call ends with “love you, Pumpkin.” That sparked my thoughts about the terms of endearment — or TOEs as I’ll refer to them — we give our favorite people and how many of them are food-centric.
My husband calls me Honey Pot Pie. Food layered on food. Sweet + savory.
I was on a mission to gather as many TOEs as possible, so I conducted a very unscientific poll amongst friends, relatives and random strangers in line at the grocery store. Below is a representative sampling of those in the food category:
- Sweetie pie
- Sweet pea
- Honey bun
I divided the responses amongst the five basic tastes and ranked them by percentage:
- Sweet: 99.5
- Bitter: 0
- Sour: 0
- Salty: 0
- Unami: 0.5
Are you surprised the Sweet category came out on top? Why do you think that is? I have a couple of theories:
1) We like sweets. They’re indulgent. They make us feel good. We always want more. Brain MRIs taken when people eat or even think of their favorite sweet treat show their reward centers lighting up like a Christmas tree, flooding the brain with dopamine. Same thing happens when people are in love. I wonder if we get a dopamine hit when we call our kids “sweetie?”
2) Our favorite people are actually sour or bitter. We optimistically call them honey or sweetie or cupcake in the vain hope that they will take on the attributes of a baked good. I struck up a conversation with a woman at my local coffee shop as we both eyed the last sticky bun in the display case. She told me her family euphemistically called her mother’s sister, “Aunt Suge” even though Aunt Suge had a reputation for being “the meanest woman alive.”
I wonder how our TOEs would change if we took a more health-conscious approach? Given the popularity of the Paleo and Keto diets which disallow refined sugar, would these TOEs be acceptable: How are you, my little pork chop? Hi, beef cheeks! How’s your day going, carrot stick?
Food-related TOEs cross cultures. Associating loved ones with food is common practice the world over — although it seems like other cultures have less of a sweet tooth than Americans. For example:
French: “petit chou” or “mon chou” meaning little cabbage or my cabbage; “petit pois” for little pea; “mon cochon” for pig.
Italian: “patatino” for little potato; “polpetto” meaning meatball. You can affectionately call someone microbino mio — “my little microbe.” Not exactly a food, but there are trillions of microbes in the gut, and who wouldn’t want to be called a little germ?
Greek: “fasolaki mou” meaning my little green bean
Japanese: A woman in Japan is considered very attractive if she has an oval, egg-shaped face and that is why one popular term is ‘tamago gata no kao,’ which means an egg with eyes.
Portuguese: “meu chuchuzinho” meaning my little squash
German: “Schnuckiputzi” for cutie-pie; “Zuckerschnäutzchen” is sugar–lips
Russian: “mya morkovka” for my little carrot
Our sweet terms convey intimacy, symbolize closeness, make us feel safe and cared for, allow us to be vulnerable and childlike.
I’ve been called “hon” and “sweetie” at restaurants and coffee shops a time or two or twenty since moving to Texas — somehow it feels more natural in the South — and I don’t mind at all. It’s warm and intimate and welcoming — like being swaddled in a cashmere sweater and slouchy socks, basking in the warm glow of a fire with my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of hot cocoa.
Maybe a little sugar isn’t such a bad thing after all.
I would love to know what your TOEs are (food related or otherwise) and what they mean to you.