Have you noticed that a lot of the coverage of Antonio Carluccio’s recent biography has focused on his suicide attempts? Thinking about this, it occurred to me that many of the people we associate with good food in this country have their own experience of unhappiness. Anthony Worrall Thompson has talked about the emotional neglect he experienced as a child, Nigel Slater’s book Toast, describes his difficult childhood through food and Nigella Lawsonindulges in her gastro porn from personal experience of great loss and bereavement. I could go on; Gordon Ramsay grew up with a violent alcoholic father, and Rick Stein lost his to suicide at the age of 18……etc.
I guess the link is not so hard to make, food at its simplest form is love. When a baby is born it needs milk to survive and before even realising that he or she is a separate entity, the baby is aware that when they are hungry, sustenance is provided. Wrapped in that reciprocal embrace with mother, that both protects from and excludes the rest of the world, the baby becomes aware of what it is to be loved and satiated at the same time. No wonder then that it can be hard to tell the two apart.
Nigel Slater talks about fighting with his step mother for his father’s affection through food and the significance of Lemon Meringue Pie in this unhappy battle. Literally; like-my-pie best-love-me-the-most. The subtitle of his book is The Story of a Boy’s Hunger – hunger for food, or for love?
Antonio Carluccio’s suicide attempts came after the death of his younger brother and then again after the breakdowns of significant adult relationships. A baby ripped from their mother’s breast howls with loss, the loss of food and of love. When Antonio lost his loved ones, he could not bear it and living seemed impossible in the moment. Addictions to gambling and alcohol helped him run away from such feelings for a while, but it was food that gave him purpose. The simple and methodical preparation of food has a grounding affect, it can anchor us in what is the basest level of life – food is survival. Perhaps this is why Author Marian Keyes has said that the only thing she could physically do in the depths of her depression was to bake cakes.
We celebrate with food, we connect through food, we console with it; we demonstrate our love through what we put on the table. So, it’s not that surprising that our roll call of celebrity chefs above, having all suffered a lack of love or a loss of loved ones, have turned to food and it’s promulgation in later life.
I think maybe failure to understand the significance between food and love is what leads to ignorance about eating disorders and a feeling that they are somehow a disease of vanity. I was listening to a radio report on an eating disorders unit for men this afternoon and an ex patient was asked why he became anorexic – he answered simply that it was because he had hated myself. He couldn’t eat because he couldn’t love himself.