Maslow and Food (part 3) – Love, Belongingness, and Esteem

– an installment of the series Maslow and Food, which began with an introduction, continued yesterday, and is now on to its third installment, below –

The way the Pyramid works, in theory, is that you can not progress toward a completely fulfilled life until you have completed each layer.  Since food, for me, has fulfilled the requirements of the first two rungs, I can now move on to the third and fourth, which go somewhat together (as did the first two).

3. Love and belongingness needs

This layer focuses on interpersonal relationships and the feelings that stem from them – friendship, intimacy, affection and love.  It covers pretty much all relationships in your daily life, from your team at work to family, friends, and romantic relationships.  For me, food is involved in establishing all of these relationships, leading me to a feeling of fulfillment in all of them.

Somewhat obviously, my job as a chef brings food into my relationships at work.  Less obvious, though, is why these relationships are so satisfying.  To me, the teamwork, the experience of going through hell together on a nightly basis, the beers after service and the laughs in between… these all bring a level of closeness to my work relationships that I don’t feel I could achieve in any other setting.

Beyond work, all of my other relationships are somehow impacted by food:  whether it is sitting down to the table with my parents like we did when we were kids, or the perfect sandwich from that place down the street from my best friend’s house, or the little place with the great fries and drinks hidden in the south end where my fiance and I have date nights because it is quiet and we can sit in a dark corner and get lost in our conversation without being bothered.

…I can still remember what I made for dinner the first Christmas that I was with friends instead of my family.  I can still remember what I made the first morning that my now-fiance stayed over at my place.  I can still remember what I made for dinner the Christmas that my parents flew halfway around the world just to be with me, what I had for dinner on that double date with my best friend and her new girlfriend, what we ate on the Fourth of July the first time I spent it on the beach with my best friend’s family.  I can still remember how huge my uncle seemed, standing over the stove with that wooden spoon (“never, ever, put a metal spoon in your gravy, you hear me? You’ll ruin it”) on Christmas Eve, and my mother’s perfect Risi Bisi every Easter.

Every single relationship in my life is punctuated by memories of food.  Food belongs with me and I with it – there is no question.

4. Esteem needs

Esteem needs are things like positive self-esteem, achievement of goals, mastery of skills, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.  Basically anything that gives you a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Food satisfies these needs in many ways.  There is a daily sense of achievement, whether through small goals throughout service or putting a meal on the table at home.  A positive sense of self esteem is generated through this constant achievement (and dare I say, the occasional compliment?).

When you finally master that sauce, or technique, the satisfaction is through the roof.  When you are finally able to quenelle that foam/sauce/icecream/whipped cream perfectly with only one spoon.  When your stock comes out beautifully rich and gelatinous.  When you get that perfect crisp skin on a piece of fish.  Every little technique and task has a learning curve, and when you finally get it right, the satisfaction is …. inexplicable.

An accumulation of these little skills brings you prestige among your peers, a status among them.  You become looked up to.  You are eligible, in a sense, for the satisfaction that comes with a colleague asking your advice.  Maybe this will parlay into some extra responsibility, or a promotion.

You become, in short, fulfilled.

That brings us to an end for today.  Tomorrow we move on to more abstract things, with cognitive and aesthetic needs.  Convenient, how the pyramid kind of breaks itself down into groups of two, isn’t it?

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Maslow and Food – The Bottom of the Pyramid (part 2)

– continued from yesterday’s introduction

There are certain things that we all need to live a fulfilled life.  One psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed a chart called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ which outlines the concepts that must be present in our lives for us to live a fully ‘actualized’ life… that is to say for us to be fulfilled in our lives and be happy.  The most recent version of the chart has eight factors that every human is affected by, some conscious and some subconscious, which motivate us to do pretty much everything in our lives

.maslow8

So how are these needs fulfilled by food?

(I am going to reference my own feelings from here on out but I welcome any comments and conversation about the concepts. I would love to hear what you have to say!)

Starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working my way to the top:

1. Biological and Physiological needs –

Maslow says these are the most basic essentials for life.  Things like air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

In the most literal of ways, no, food is not air or sex or shelter or sleep.  But, hear me out.

When I was a child, I would come home (shelter) after school to the smell of my mother cooking.  The (air) in the house was thick with the scent of (on tuesdays) onions and garlic sauteeing, the sound of meat sputtering, the acidic gurgling of my mother’s meat sauce on the stove.  I still can’t smell those things without being transported back to my mother’s kitchen and smiling.

As an adult, (food) and (drink) go together.  The best food paired with the best drink, or just a burger and a beer.  One can not be without the other, in my world.  The combination leads to the warm and fuzzies… (warmth) in the figurative sense.  My heart and mind are at peace, warm and full.

(Sex) is a bit of a stretch, but, that same level of satisfaction does come after a truly exquisite meal.  A well written menu can leave my mouth watering and my desire so intense that when the plate finally lands in front of me and I take that first bite, I get goosebumps.  A foodgasm, if you will.

Finally, sleep.  With an empty stomach or unsatisfied appetite, I am unable to sleep until I am satisfied.  A great meal can give me a night’s sleep incomparable to most anything.

2. Safety needs

The second stage of fulfillment, according to Maslow, includes protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability, and so on.

Food has always given me a sense of (protection) and (security)  Not in the sense of eating my feelings, but in the coming home kind of way.  Originally, it was based in that coming-home-to-mom’s feeling, as if everything would be ok.  As an adult it is about the sense of control I feel – it is the thing I do when everything else is going crazy.  It helps me regain (stability), put my life back in (order), see things more clearly.  Food always behaves a certain predictable way, in accordance with the many (law)s of physics which never change – maillard browning, the way proteins unfold to make an eggwhite hold air and become stiff, the way deep fat frying is actually a dry cooking technique, etc.  They are unbiased constants that can soothe me back into a feeling of calm, quiet, secure, everything-will-be-ok state of mind.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, the third and fourth rungs on the ladder:  Love and Esteem and Food

Maslow and Food – Forward (part 1)

I was sitting at the bar a few nights ago, decompressing after work, when I was asked by someone how old I was.  The woman seemed to think that there was no way that I was old enough to be sitting in that bar drinking that martini legally.  I had to actually show her my license to prove to her that yes, I am 29, and yes, that is my real age.

She got up and went to have a cigarette and came back, again looking quizzical. She proceeds to drag me (unwillingly) back into conversation:

So how is it possible that you are 29 and look like you’re 18?

I was kind of taken aback.  Usually people just tell me that “you’re so lucky to be such a babyface, you’ll look young forever” and leave me alone.  But no, this woman needed an answer.

I’m only 24 and I look 35 already.  It’s not fair, you must tell me your secret!

So, I took a second to consider it.  What is it that I do that makes me any different from this woman? The only answer that I could come up with is this:

I do everything that makes me happy.  End of story.  My job sucked, so I quit it and became a chef because I love food and cooking makes me happy.  I just got engaged to someone who makes me happier than I’ve ever been at home.  I walk my dog at least three miles every day so I get a lot of fresh air (and perspective when I need it).  I quit smoking, do my best to eat well, try to stay in shape and laugh every day.  I do the things that make me happy. Yeah, that must be it.  Happiness keeps me young.

I think she expected me to tell her to go buy some crazy expensive face cream and get a massage or something.  This was definitely not the answer she was looking for.  She just kind of said “oh” and walked away to have another cigarette (“could you watch my drink again honey? I’ll be right back”).  Sure, lady, go smoke another butt.

She came back long enough to tell me that “that is the best answer I’ve ever heard” and pound the rest of her wine before paying her tab and heading out.  I couldn’t figure out if she had simply had enough, couldn’t handle the answer because it made her think too much about her own sad life, or if she just got lost in her own head and needed to go home.

Either way, the whole interaction got me to thinking; what is it that makes me so genuinely happy? Why is it that I can be so happy doing this thing, cooking, that so many people hate? And then I came around to thinking about food in general and why it is the centerpiece to so many happy memories for so many people.

Then I remembered something my dad used to talk to me about a lot (particularly in the less-happy times in my life): Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

stay tuned – more tomorrow!