Is Love Really an Ingredient?

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Our intentions play a huge role in everything we do. But is love really a food ingredient? How does it taste?

A recent post in The Atlantic left me a little perplexed. Jen Doll deconstructs a favorite faux gras lentil and walnut spread—not because it makes a guilt-free version of one of the most egregious food products on the planet—but because it includes a few extra ingredients on the label: love and respect.

If you’re a label reader (and I hope you are!), you’ve likely seen “love” added to more than a few of your favorite products: Fizzy kombuchas, creamy chocolates, cereal and snack brands often add this intangible element to their products. But it’s gratuitous and useless, says Doll, “Love is not an actual ingredient; it cannot go in one’s brownies, one’s spaghetti, one’s faux gras. Nor is respect, enthusiasm, whimsy, irritation, lust, crankiness, or “a bad mood” something that makes food taste any different.”

In Aimee Bender’s brilliant novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, the story’s protagonist can taste much more than the physical ingredients she bites into. Sadness, frustration, concern, guilt, anger, love—if the person who made the food was feeling any particularly strong emotion, Rose Edelstein can taste it. She becomes overwhelmed by this sensitivity to such a paralyzing point that she opts instead for ersatz factory made food, void of human interaction. It’s a novel, of course, but it illustrates the potential our growing sensitivities hold. Isn’t the saying “you are what you eat” for good reason? And one could also argue that our lack of food “made with love” since the advent of industry and packaged foods has corresponded with our rise in diseases, depression and loneliness.

The fact is, we know relatively little when it comes to those invisible, intangible energies that pass between humans. Beyond the chemical reactions triggered by pheromones that make us want to lunge into the (preferably naked) laps of virtual strangers, we can also “sense” other things, like when someone’s in a bad mood or even lying. And I reckon as we continue down the evolutionary road, we’ll be able  to sense quite a bit more as well.

Talking about “energy” and certainly the ability to “sense” somebody else’s, is anyone’s reason for mocking new age crystal hugging hippies; but isn’t assuming this material world we’ve built ourselves into is all that exists, also a little hokey? It certainly tastes a little faux gras to me.

Of course there’s more to life, more to existence, and much more than what meets the eye. Ms. Doll’s selection of  a faux gras spread illustrates an important point in favor of love as an ingredient: we’re evolving to a spot where it doesn’t take much effort to realize that foie gras is one of the most inherently cruel and unnecessary excuses for a food product on the planet. (For the unaware: the curious and intelligent birds are force-fed fatty grains through a steel pipe stuck down their throats so that their livers swell up and—voila!—duck liver pate for your dinner party guests.)

If more and more people are beginning to become aware of the reasons why we should move away from diets that not only harm our bodies, but also harm the environment and other animals, then why can’t we also appreciate the addition of “love” to a product even if we don’t think we can actually taste it? Isn’t that changing our relationship with food, even if  we’re not quite sure how yet? Perhaps the one really important ingredient missing for many of us is not so much love, but a little bit more imagination.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: marina.shakleina

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.