samedi 18 juillet 2009

Chapter 1: Whet your appetite

1/ Whet your appetite
“One day, she lost her appetite. The day after, she lost her motivation. Emotionally, she was in trouble, not satisfied…”
I have always noticed that many things are interconnected in our behaviour, but without knowing exactly what it meant. To me, different appetites are a kind of motivation; something that we would like to have, which is necessary, vital or not, but may provide us with some pleasure or satisfaction at least.
For a long time now, I have been very interested in how psychologies work, how motivation is generated, how passion is something you can feel deeply inside a person.
I honestly cannot imagine studying or working in a job without being passionate, even though, of course, it is not always practically possible for everyone. When it is, I wonder how you can push people to understand how to find their own interest, when they are not able to do it on their own. As with young people, they have to find out their own areas of interest, and how they can develop their capacities further.
Well, looking at the explanations offered for emotions, it is generally admitted that emotions are recognized as being one of three types of mental process, that is to say: motivation, emotions, and cognition.
Emotions therefore exist to indicate some changes in individuals’ relationships and their environment in order to adapt their behaviour. Faced with a threat or an injustice, anger rises. In danger, fear mounts, followed by an attack or by flight.
But let us focus our attention on motivation. Motivated by certain motors, able to cause motion, we are lead by our various needs. Primary motors are notably hunger, thirst, needs of social contacts and sexual desire. The role of motivations is to guide the organism to satisfy its need for survival and reproduction. Unlike emotions, with their flexible cycle, motivations are more regulated by a temporal cycle. For example, thirst rises until it is satiated, and is satisfied by drinking. Then, there is a distinction to be made between basic need for subsistence or survival and real, deep needs. On that point, I suggest that we look at Human Scale Development , by the Chilean economist and environmentalist Manfred Max-Neef who researched fundamental human needs to fight against poverty in developing countries. He classifies them as follows: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom. Needs are also defined according to the existential categories of being, having, doing and interacting, and from these dimensions, a 36 cell matrix is developed which can be filled with examples of satisfiers for those needs. It is quite interesting to look more carefully at his chart… Understanding the specifics of the different needs is important for the adoption of creative solutions, the creation of objects and services that might answer accurately our human needs and desires. Another way of seeing this, for me, is that we can distil ideas from it and use them, as a part of a stronger strategy for creation.
Coming back to my last category, less well known I think, are the cognitive factors. They enable the organism to learn from his environment and resolve problems in new situations. The learning process is actually done to satisfy the motivations, on the one hand, and to maintain some positive emotions, on the other. So cognition includes the learning process, memory, and the resolution of problems. Thus, these three basic mental processes belong to, and blend together into, a larger systemic framework to generate more complex mechanisms that forms the individual’s personality.
What must be admitted then is the importance of food and the organization of diners at any occasion, be it private or for business matters. Important things happening in our life, from a birthday, a candlelit dinner to a wedding breakfast, are celebrated around a table. It is certainly because all seated together, we share a meal and a moment in time; stories are activated and emotions engaged. Then, when we remind these moments, the context, the people with whom we were, what we have eaten, and the spoken topics, all come to our mind, merged together to evoke a global feeling.
On second thoughts, consider the meal – something we do generally three times a day, started in our family and given to us by our parents. And I would say, it is parents, and, particularly the mother – if she is the one who prepares the meal – orientate our tastes, our dietary habits, our health, actually a quite big part of our identity. Through a simple meal, she may pass down cultural culinary customs. And her pleasure to prepare a meal, to satisfy different tastes might influence the appetite and the curiosity for various ingredients, ways of cooking, and so forth.
Well, it has to be said that it is then something particularly important in France, although I am sure it has a meaning for other cultures. I cannot really explain why, but it is true that if you choose good products, invent simple recipes, cook for people you like, and enjoy the sensations together, all this bring a natural and simple pleasure. I think, though, that this has more meaning for French people, as traditional cuisine, with each region in France having its own culinary specialities. Of course, it depends on the families, mine, for instance – my father being an oyster farmer, passionate, with subtle tastes, he was very keen for us to savour samples of various fresh seafood for instance. “Dégustation” has been his favourite word! And because his job is his passion, I have been grown up with plenty of oysters (which, you will notice, is typically French) and I can say it tells about us, about our history, about part of my identity.

Let us see what is happening around a meal: When a resonant “Dinner’s ready!” is called to everybody at home, we know that our personal rhythms are going to be re-timed for a familial moment. Eating with your family in not harmless. We might return from such a meal in another mood, because all the personality of a person is building up during the meal. As the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann says: “The meal is the architect of the familial life”. To me, many things I have read in this book echo with plenty of my own daily life stories around the table.
“Contact” expresses the idea of getting close to somebody ‘with’ ‘tact’, the touch, physical and emotional. Well, to get in touch tightly may take time; it is about building ties through different areas of interests and sharing it, offering it to others in an ideal of union and pleasure.
This notion of union is interesting since the table forces us into a close intimacy with the ones with whom we share the table. The table is not a simple object, but really an intermediary for communication. “Being in communion with” others achieves a familiarity, and to some degree enables a freedom in our expression of the emotions, and this is easily perceived as successful or as a drama through a meal. Given that it is quite difficult to deal with the conversation and table manners, such as the careful avoidance of certain hot topics, like political views, the table might then become a challenging moment of tension. Fortunately, food is always here “to smooth over some clangers…”

This makes us fully aware that the table can be used on purpose to revitalize the links within a family. Some mothers make sure to keep the dinner time at least with their family, or their husband, even though there is no deep conversation, it is the only thing left. Switching off the television may sometimes save relationships while many times over it calms the atmosphere and even encourages exchanges. At any rate, it might be said that through a meal you can quickly “renew the unique links” that a family has with one another.

2. Kaufmann, Jean-Claude, Casseroles, amour et crises: ce que cuisiner veut dire, Armand Colin, 2005, p.93, 172.
3. ibid., p.180, 278

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