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Editor’s letter: Why do we crave?

It might be a stretch but, perhaps, there is something we can learn about ourselves in what we crave. For instance, what I might long for now, foodwise, is very different from my childhood daydreams of chocolate and ice cream.

These days I might fixate on the idea of some smelly Brie de Meaux smeared over a chunk of fresh, crusty, oven-warm baguette whereas, when I was six, I would fantasise with my friends about how great it would be if our parents owned a dairy and we could have an unlimited supply of Mars Bars and jersey caramels.

It sounds a bit priggish but, most of the time, the food I obsess over now tends to be healthy and seasonal. In my defence, this is more about a love and appreciation of growing and preparing food, rather than some sort of puritanism. Every winter I long for tart tamarillos to have on my morning porridge and sweet juicy oranges off my mum’s tree. And I look forward to lentils or white beans drowning in a thick, warming vege soup, or small, nutty Brussels sprouts roasted with a little lemon zest and parmesan. I get really excited when asparagus or sweetcorn is in season and I could probably eat tomatoes and avocados every day, if they were cheap all year round.

But it wasn’t always like this. In my early teens, my dream food was a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with a chocolate thick shake or warm caramel sundae. In my 20s, when I was pregnant, I had French toast and sparkling blackcurrant juice almost every day but, as soon as my daughter was born, I went off sweet food altogether and remain that way to this day.

The evolution of food cravings, over a lifetime, illustrates that what we choose to eat is not only intensely personal but inexorably linked to our values, lifestyle, emotions and culture. As children, novelty and sensation-seeking are far more important to us than our overall health.
We have our parents to worry about all that nutrition stuff for us. Through our teens, food becomes a way to socialise and to exert our independence. We make our own choices, usually in direct opposition to what our parents would choose.

As students learning to manage our money and our time, we eat whatever we can afford, that will fill us up and doesn’t take too long to make (eg, instant noodles). Ironically, we also start to crave our parents’ home-cooked meals. Then, slowly, as adulthood becomes less of a performance and more of a persistent reality, we start to want food that will keep us well, give us enough energy to get through the day and is, hopefully, delicious enough to have made the effort worthwhile. And, nostalgically, many of us seek out and replicate-old family recipes to try out on our own children.

Cravings can be driven by many factors, as dietitian Katrina Pace’s feature explores, but what interests me most is what they can reveal about us.

What do your cravings tell you?

First published: June 2019