Why does food make us feel stuff? Vegan white bean chocolate-chip cookies.

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Ever eat a piece of of your favourite chocolate and genuinely feel happier after? Or felt a little homesick after cooking your mum’s signature dish? What about that blissful calming feeling that washes over you when you take that first sip of tea after a non-stop crazy day? These are just a few examples of our emotional connection to food but I can probably go on for longer than you’d care to read.

I think in general our generational obsession with food is largely because the experience of eating is ground in deep emotions.

It’s particularly interesting that when de constructed into separate ingredients, food is relatively meaningless.  Chomping on a stick of butter alone isn’t pleasurable. But the combination of flavours, ingredients and cooking processes that go into a buttery flaky croissant dipped in a steaming cup of coffee is bloomin’ delicious.   This occurs because our cerebral cortex, that part of the brain that does the more complex humany bits,  takes the single flavours and combines them into a unifying experiences that is immensely pleasurable.

It makes evolutionary sense that eating would make us feel good. We need a reward to be motivated to engage in risky food-seeking behaviours. That reward is the firing of our dopamine pathways that generates intense feelings of pleasure.But our emotional connection with food goes a lot deeper that the sensory level. Eating trigger internal states of the mind and body, that go way beyond something simply tasting nice. Our senses have a huge influence on each other on but this isn’t the full story. Food goes through high-order processing in the amygdala, which is where we generate emotions.

It is thought that the reason eating also stimulates the amygdala because flavour and smell are perceived as having social significance. We use food as a social tool to share and provide for each other, symbolising one of our best qualities as a species – willingness to cooperate. Food stirs pleasure because of its sensual properties and reward value, which in turn conjures emotions because of it’s personal relevance to us.

But food doesn’t so much symbolize social bonds as much as it allows for a recreation of them. The reason for this is that the emotions held in food tell us stories from our pasts – in so many of my memories, happy or sad, food is present. I can pinpoint the moment I fully understood the enormous significance that food holds in a person’s life. It was when my father (a man who’s cooking repertoire starts and finishes with toast) tentatively asked me to help him make my grandma’s signature petal cake so that he and my grandpa could feel close to her. Both baking and eating that petal cake held unique memories for each of us; it’s reconstruction prompted hours of reminiscing, laughing and crying as we each recalled the anecdotes that dwelled within the chocolatey layers. But everyone has their version of a haphazardly made petal cake – a meal that has the power to trigger a lifetime of memories, which form the emotional narratives of our lives.

What I’m trying to say is that what maybe the reason food and cooking can be so emotional is largely due to this social aspects. When you are creating a dish for others of course you are replicating the sensory qualities, but importantly, you’re replicating desires, our memories and the field of emotional associations we have. People’s unique preferences or dislikes for certain foods are coherent with their experiences. So the beauty of  food doesn’t lie in the entity itself, but the memories, emotions and stories they represent.

I’ve chosen this recipe because it’s discovery genuinely gave me a brief moment of euphoria. Turns out you can bake with white beans instead of flour and it leaves a gooey moist cookie that’s full of protein. All you do is literally wizz the ingredients together and bake it for twenty minutes. It’s simple, delicious and healthy enough to make you feel all the feels.

Vegan white bean cookies (makes 12):

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 1 400g tin white beans ( I used cannelini beans) N.B don’t throw away the liquid!

6 tablespoons liquid from the beans

125g (8 tablespoons) peanut butter

1 tablespoon baking powder

110g (8 tablespoons) honey

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g dark chocolate chips

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor (apart from the chocolate chips). All the beans should be mashed, it should resemble thick cookie dough.
  3. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Spoon a blob of dough onto a greased baking tray, flatten slightly with a fork
  5. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until the tops turn golden.
  6. Leave to cool fore 5 mins before enjoying! I recommend dunking in a strong cuppa.

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