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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