I have been craving a cheeseburger for a week or so. Cheeseburgers aren’t on my list of things I tend to crave. I can’t recall the last time I had one. Maybe it was a day last spring when I was on my way to pick up my daughter and was a little early, and hungry. It was pouring rain (torrential, really) and I saw a parking spot right across the street from the Shake Shack on Market St. I pulled into that spot, sloshed through the puddles and lined up for a cheeseburger. Yes, that might be the last one I had. And that was more a matter of right place, right time (or not) than a specific craving.
Search food cravings on Amazon, and you’ll find over 1,500 books listed. Doreen Virtue (yes, that is actually her name) seems to be the reigning expert, and in fact I’ve seen her on PBS holding court and explaining the causes of all our cravings. I’ve also perused one of her books. And perhaps she is right, and has The Answer, but I didn’t find her book compelling enough to read, and I generally sink into books that promise to heal me of my food addictions. This craving though doesn’t really feel like an addiction, it feels more like an itch.
Cheeseburgers really have all the qualities of drippy, decadent food. You must hold them in two hands, grease mixed with other juicy components will get all over your face, and probably on your shirt too. There are a variety of textures, from the seared crust and soft interior of the burger, the crunch of the lettuce, heat of the red onion, the gooey melted cheese, the sharp tang of the mixture of ketchup and mustard, to the soft roll that will inevitably lodge itself against the roof of my mouth. I want one!
But what if this craving is iconic? Maybe what I crave is the sensation of a cheeseburger? The sensuality of it. The warm juiciness of it. As I think of it, picture it, symbolically roll my tongue around it, I understand that what I really want, but at the moment is much harder to obtain, is a kiss; a juicy, hot, melty, kiss. At this moment cheeseburger=kiss. I am not really craving a cheeseburger at all, the cheeseburger is my brain’s way of trying to satisfy a whole other need by substituting a greasy, hot, sandwich. Now that I realize the truth, do I still want that burger?
What if I drilled a little deeper on all my cravings? What would happen? Would my brain explode? Would that cure me? Do I need curing? Are all my food cravings about some other need I’d rather not think about?
My personal, absolutely non-scientific explanation for food cravings covers a vast territory of needs. I believe that our bodies crave things we actually need, even when it’s as simple as thirst. But how often do we try to quench that thirst with something other than water? I happen to like water (lucky for me) so it is my go-to beverage, but how many people try to slake their thirst with sodas? When we crave meat do we need vitamin B, or iron, or are we avoiding a fight with someone? Cravings come in so many forms, salty, sweet, spicy, creamy, crunchy, cold or hot, and then there are the more specific cravings, such as for chocolate ice cream or a cheeseburger. Are these cravings universal, cultural, or unique? I imagine there are plenty of people who crave cheeseburgers and are kissed on a regular basis… According to the Huffington Post our cravings are from our prehistoric brains, and can be soothed in a variety of ways, though there is no mention of kissing!
Is there a difference (and if there is, is it a significant one) between a craving, and just wanting something? I think there is, I believe there is, but we have become a society accustomed to having our desires (at least for food) satisfied so easily and conveniently that we don’t often move from wanting to craving. When you look up craving, pregnancy is the tie-in topic. Those cravings seem much more wholesome and justified than mine. Pregnant women are working, they are growing a human, they can want and crave whatever they want, they deserve it! But what about the rest of us, not doing anything that noble, but wanting that burger anyway?
Who knows how long this craving will last, and if I succumb, will that put an end to it?