Many of us are familiar with the five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. However, I would argue that a few others should be added to the list, notably food. Love can be demonstrated both by gifting food and cooking food together. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Matthew Riccio, a Graduate Fellow with the National Science Foundation said “[Cooking for others] can help to encourage a sense of trust, community, meaning, purpose, belonging, closeness, and intimacy.” In fact, human evolution, literature, psychology, and the science of memory all provide evidence that cooking together should be a central part of any relationship.
While cooking and eating food are now essential parts of daily life, humanity was not always centered around cooking. A study on cooking and the ecology of human origins found that “sexual alliances emerged from the adoption of cooking, particularly of plant foods.” They concluded that “cooking, whenever it evolved, led rapidly to the evolution of males’ scrounging from females and thence to sexual alliances.” Although relationships are far more than mere sexual alliances, the argument that cooking was a formational part of the creation of such partnerships suggests that cooking should be an integral part of any relationship.
It is unsurprising, given the interconnectedness of cooking and relationships throughout history, that many believe the way a couple works together in the kitchen reflects their relationship as a whole. In The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, one of the characters, Lillian, “wonder[s] why psychologists focused so much on a couple’s life in their bedroom. You could learn everything about a couple just watching their kitchen choreography as they prepared dinner.” Cooking is a very personal act because it is centered around the chef’s preferences. The way in which those preferences are shared between two people can be very telling of their relationship.
The link between cooking and relationships is strengthened by the connection between cooking and memory. John Allen writes that the hippocampus, a part of the brain central in creating and maintaining memories, relies upon the parts of the brain focused on emotion and odor, both of which are strongly related to food. Whether it’s the smell of brownies wafting from the oven or lemon zest lingering on fingertips, scent becomes more potent when a couple takes the time to cook together. The odor is not merely delivered on a plate and sent away, but it invades their bodies, their kitchen, and perhaps their whole house. Emotion too has the potential to be strengthened when a couple cooks together. The memory is no longer only sharing a meal together, but includes the walk to Trader Joe’s for ingredients, dancing in the kitchen while cooking, and the pride resulting from working together to create a product of beauty.
We have all been immediately transported by the whiff of a scent; even if we cannot place the memory attached to it, we feel the scent’s familiarity. In Space and Place, geographer Yi Fu Tuan reflects upon the various senses that lead to the creation of an experiential sense of place. “Odors lend character to objects and places, making them distinctive, easier to identify and remember,” Tuan notes. A sense of place is so much more than an understanding of one’s surroundings; it is created by the people, the experiences, the scents, and more that give rise to emotion within us. Cooking together allows one to create a sense of place— a knowledge of who they are in their relationship. By prioritizing cooking together, a couple creates a place to build their relationship because, just as Bauermeister noted in her novel, a couple’s interactions in the kitchen are a reflection of their relationship.
French author Marcel Proust beautifully articulates the emotional impact of food, a feeling common to many of us. He writes in Remembrance of Things Past of the memory that springs to his mind when he tastes a tea-dipped madeleine. Immediately after indulging in the madeline, he experiences an emotion much greater than the mere sensation biting into a madeline could have evoked. Although he is unsure at first of the specific memory that connects to this feeling, he describes the pleasure that invades his body as “having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal.” The taste of food can transform one’s entire emotional state and when shared, links that feeling of joy described by Proust with the other person. When a couple takes the time to cook together, they create more opportunities to share tastes, for example when they lick the batter off of the spatula. Furthermore, cooking together allows couples to personalize the taste of the food they will be sharing. Making memories is an integral part of building a relationship and sharing meals; food that has been cooked together especially allows for the formation of more vibrant memories.
Harry Connick Junior’s song “Recipe for Love” breaks love down into ingredients just as a traditional recipe would. The title of his song points to the importance of cooking in relationships. By taking the time to cook together, couples can improve their relationships and create beautiful memories together. Thus, cooking should not only be added to this list of love languages, but should also be included in every relationship as part of the recipe for love—even if there is no true formula for it.
Cover image courtesy of goodhousekeeping.com