I fully believe that food is more than fuel. It is a celebration of life, a centerpiece for building family, community, and friendship. Every culture uses food in their celebrations. Why else do we think of food as "treats?" Because it is a celebration of life, of the bounty of the earth, of the hard labor that we do each day to bring food to the table. (Just think of the idioms for work and you'll see how basic it is: bring food to the table, bring home the bacon, make the dough, be the breadwinner...)
Everyone eats. And when everyone has to go off to work, off to school, off to errands, off to whatever, the one place we come back together is around the dinner table. No wonder there are so many "comfort" and "nurture" emotional connections to particular foods.
(Interesting sidenote: I was reading an article about what is "comfort" food to men and women, and for men it usually was something home-cooked or reminiscent of home-cooked, like meatloaf, while for women it was more often something that needed little preparation, like ice cream or candy or chips.)
I think this is one of the reasons it can be SO hard to lose weight. We have SUCH a culture of plenty. Think about meat, for example. Fifty years ago in America, and currently in many countries, people just didn't GET meat more than a couple times a week. Here and now, we can eat meat every day even if we're not well off. I usually eat meat twice a day. And cakes, cookies, and candies, which used to be reserved more for festival/holiday treats, are seen as normal everyday things. Vegetarianism in our current culture is much more of a choice than a necessity. This hasn't always been the case.
There are things I've read that really make me ashamed of how much we have, and how little I appreciate it. Angela's Ashes is a book (and movie, but the book is more detailed) about a young boy growing up in the slums of Limerick Ireland. He loses three siblings to poverty and starvation. One of the images that sticks with me was of him licking the greasy newspaper that had been used to wrap someone's fish and chips and then discarded. The fat and salt that he licked off the discarded newspaper was his dinner that night. He'd have fried bread and sweet tea for his meals for days on end. He dreamed about having an egg to eat. For luxury, he dreamed about having butter for that egg.
Another was an article from the Post early this year, about a woman in an African country who sold tomatoes in the market each day, hoping to earn the few pennies she'd need to buy meal and some vegetables for dinner that night so her children wouldn't go to bed hungry again. The reporter stayed with her all day long. It was a powerful article.
For people like that, cookies and Poptarts and icecream are once-a-year luxuries. A hamburger is more meat than they have in a month, or a year. And I sit here and scarf them down like there's no tomorrow, and call it a mere "treat?" Shame on me! Sure I can say I'd be one of the people who survived a famine because my body holds the calories tightly in its greedy little hands. But what comfort is that in a time of such plenty? What right have I to be so rich in calories, shown in my body for all to see, when so many through history and the world would love to eat for one day just what I had for breakfast this morning!?
Food, and fat, in almost every time before the industrial age, has been a symbol of wealth, of prosperity, of health and happiness. It is the most basic "have". Those who "have not" can dream of nothing else.
Sorry, I'm waxing a bit philosophical this morning. But the 'food as fuel' comment in the "non-food rewards" thread really got me thinking.