Eating, like cooking, is an outlet for creativity and manipulation. Take Oreos, for instance. Do you eat the frosting first and save the chocolate wafers for last? Do you carefully take apart the cookie to separate the filling and then scrape it off with your teeth? Or do you chomp through the whole cookie, getting both the creamy filling and crunchy cookies together?
Each method is personal, and playing with food is something we all do. Yet, creative eating goes beyond mere ingestion, as folklorist Elizabeth Adler suggests in “Creative Eating: The Oreo Syndrome.”
“The order, control, and risk-taking involved in creative eating are fundamental to art, and creative eating is a type of art in which we all participate from an early age,” she writes. Cooking and food presentation have long been considered an art form, and eating may also be a practiced art.
The Oreo cookie is just one example. Let’s consider another: breakfast. Whether sweet or savory, light or substantial, breakfast embraces every tempo and individual preference and has more specificity than any other meal. How you take your coffee or how long you steep your tea is so particular. Coffee shops, such as Starbucks, work to meet your preferences and customize the beverage accordingly, even marking your name on it.
Observing how people eat food — like Oreos — indicates that eating is more than just nourishment. Some creative eating is learned by observing others, particularly when a new food or food combination is introduced. Whereas Americans may eat sushi by dipping the fish and rice into the soy sauce, Japanese etiquette for sushi-eating insists on only dipping the fish into the soy sauce. By imitating others, we become a part of the in-group, or we may insist on our idiosyncrasies and create new ways of eating.
All these decisions are not only your preferences, but also a collection of rituals that define you.