In Fine Fettle: Soul food and the subtle language of needs

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Health Columnist

Some days, I’m just hungry. I can’t quite figure out what it is for, although cookie dough usually does the trick. It isn’t that I wake up thinking I have a cookie-dough deficiency. In fact, nowhere in science can I find any studies on the dangers of such deficiencies.

Ammi Midstokke.

The thing about listening to the needs of our bodies is that they are often subtle, or at least drowned out by the noise of everything else shouting at us, from bank deposits to be made, kids to get to school, oil changes, dinner recipes, appointments and that nagging injury we keep trying to ignore.

The subtle language of our bodies is quiet until it is not quiet anymore (disease, stroke, moving up a pant size). And if we listen closely, I don’t think it is actually asking for raw sugar, butter, and eggs by the tablespoon.

Many an author has explored the connection between emotion and food. There is even a book that suggests the type of food we crave has to do with an emotional craving: spicy food means we’re craving more “excitement” in our lives (or perhaps a logistically simplified version of colonics).

I actually woke up and ate salad. Not surprisingly, this apparently did not satisfy my body’s needs for the day. I tried several cups of coffee as I wandered around the house waffling between a knitting project, photo editing, and feeding my toddler nephew crayons as he was halfway through the box already.

Everything felt… empty.

Eating raw cookie dough definitely resolves that issue.

Commence cookie baking project. Mind you, I’m visiting my brother in California, and his baking cabinet has ingredients older than the two of us combined (leftover from an ex-girlfriend, no doubt). I baked some cookies with a random concoction of ingredients. Baking is chemistry more than anything, but I didn’t need them to rise or stick together. Once they were baked, I probably wouldn’t eat any. It was the dough I was after.

By the time they were in the oven, I felt rather like a ball of dough myself. My body was still asking for something. I took pause to listen to it. How can you not be satisfied after a half pound of cookie dough? I asked.

I felt like I was in relationship therapy. “I didn’t even ask for cookie dough!” cried my body. “I asked to be nourished. I asked for soul food. Are you even listening to me or are you just scrolling your phone?”

If we look at cookbooks and Pinterest and wax poetic about the creamy, starchy, buttery joys that we often refer to as soul food, is that food actually feeding our souls? I would argue we are trying to use our stomachs to reach parts of our heart that are asking for attention.

Perhaps it is a memory. Baking cookies always reminds me of my grandmother and how she would walk around the kitchen in a flannel shirt with a hand towel draped over her shoulder, touting the merits of margarine. Eating apple cobbler reminds me of Sunday morning snowshoes and coming home to a warm fire with rosy cheeks.

This morning, my body was asking for something quietly, softly nurturing. Some little escape from the motor mind of my Monday morning brain. It was asking for a salad and a walk and sun on its face.

And now that I figured out what it was really asking for, I’m going to take my food-baby of a dough-stuffed belly, and take it for a walk in a space quiet enough that I can hear its other gentle messages.

The next time you’re craving soul food, take a moment to listen to the whispers of your heart. Perhaps you aren’t even deficient in fried chicken or cookie dough like it’s trying to make you think. Maybe a walk and a hug are the equivalent of a Belgian Waffle or better.

Ammi Midstokke is offering a 6-week nutrition and health course beginning Jan. 18 and hosted at Evan’s Brothers Coffee. To find out more, visit www.twobirdsnutrition.com/foodology.

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