Friday, January 18, 2008

Does Food Make Us Happy?

I started to write this post last August. A few minutes ago, I was doing a little blog maintenance, and came across the draft I never finished. I sound more than a touch depressed and disillusioned. I'm still feeling a bit of the foodie fatigue - I'm definitely still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information and unfortunate amount of food snobbery and elitism out there - but I've also gotten some of my spark back. I'm excited to eat and cook these days.

Anyway, here's the post:

I've been thinking about this question a lot lately.

And just started to write a post carefully outlining the reasons why I'm not sure what the answer is, either for me personally or for Americans as a whole. Then I stopped because it was just as hard to articulate why I can't answer the question as it would be to answer the question in the first place.

I've mentioned here before that I'm going through a little bit of foodie fatigue. There are too many options available to me right now, I think: too many ways to eat "ethically" (or unethically) - none of which are foolproof - too many new ingredients to try and recipes to explore and books to read and restaurants to review and culinary destinations to visit. So as much as I love a great meal, as much as sitting around a dining room table with friends is my favorite thing ever, and as much as I have a million little Proust's madeleine moments every day, I'm always left feeling like there's more to do. Like I'm somehow shirking foodie responsibility. It's very overwhelming and reminds me a little too much of the junior year build-up to college applications.

That doesn't even take into account all the other ways food sometimes makes me sad - are there any women left in America who don't feel at least a twinge of guilt after they eat a Pop-Tart? Am I the only one who wanted to purge after watching The Devil Wears Prada?

And I'm one of the lucky ones: I do love eating and cooking and reading about food. Food should make me happy. At least more frequently than it makes me sad. Probably it does. Unfortunately, right now, I don't think I can make that blanket statement.

So if I'm feeling this way, what about the 90% of the country that is not as into food as I am? Does food make them mostly happy? Or does it make them mostly sad? Or are they just indifferent?

My plan was to wrap this up with a mention of the web site sent to me by my friend Joyce. We Feel Fine is an aggregator of emotion-based statements and imagery, all culled from blogs. Over the course of a few weeks last summer, I collected about 30 food-related images from the blog and evaluated the accompanying statements for their emotional content. I wanted to know if people mostly use food images to convey happiness or sadness.

Not surprisingly, the answer was: it depends.

Maybe I'll post some of those findings was fairly interesting. And now that I'm not so down on the food anymore, I'm sure I'll see them in a new light.

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