#MakanApa:The love we try to find in food

MARCH 13 — It is a defining characteristic of Malaysians that we are generally obsessed with food — talking about food, while we’re eating, and already planning the next meal.

I confess to loving food so much, I get emotional if I’m not eating or if the food is terrible.

Yet I have friends who have resorted to eating too much, to deal with their troubled emotional states.

Being terribly sad creates this gnawing chasm inside you that demands to be filled. Some dull the pain with drugs or alcohol but many instead find recourse in food.

The relationship we have with food has an impact on our health and that relationship swings out of balance when our own lives are out of balance.

It brings to mind the Malay concept of air tangan — something that needs a longer explanation as there is no real equivalent phrase for it in English.

Directly translated it is “hand water” which of course makes no sense.

Air tangan is usually attributed to mothers, the traditional belief that food made with a mother’s air tangan is infused with her love and care.

I think that’s what people seek when they overeat. That feeling of being cared for, of being nourished — the way a baby’s cries are soothed with a mother’s feeding.

Yet I am also reminded of another saying: that there is nothing to be gained from loving (too much) something that can’t love you back.

Medicating your woes with food is just as bad an idea as assuaging them with alcohol or drugs; we’re just reluctant to admit it.

I think too, that it also depends on how we go about taking the edge off the pain.

There’s a big difference between calling up a friend to share a slice of cake and daily woes, and buying a whole cake and consuming it to distract yourself via indigestion.

There is nothing wrong with attempting to find a sliver of joy in a good creme brulee or an omakase menu.

It is, however, a problem when you try to make food a substitute for the things you wish you had.

Food is many things — life-giving, absolutely necessary, something we have fought wars over but we can’t make it what it isn’t.

Eat that cake, have that doughnut. Just don’t make your life revolve around them, nor fill the empty space in your heart with all the food you can keep down.

The world is bigger than your plate and believe it or not, you can find new joys outside of dessert. And remember, life may be ephemeral, but cake? There will always be cake.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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