“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.” – Louis H. Sullivan, American Architect (1)
Form vs function is an often discussed topic amongst graphic designers, interior designers, product designers, and car salesmen. Asking a client which is more important is a quick way to determine how to appeal to that client. If the client’s priority is function, they will be more concerned with the performance of a car or chair than the beauty of its lines. An ad agency asking the question immediately knows to focus on copywriting more than graphic design. That client simply won’t appreciate superior design more than good design.
Presenting form and function as a dichotomy is a useful shortcut to discerning priorities, but it misses the point of the original concept. Function is always the basis for form. Without function, we do not need form. With that in mind, I suppose it could be argued that there is no function for art or music. I disagree, and I digress. We don’t talk much about form following function in the kitchen, but keeping that concept in mind can be helpful when making food choices.
Let’s start with the function of food.
The most basic function of food is to provide energy. Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are the macronutrients needed in large quantities to give your body the energy it needs to perform daily activities. The body also uses energy to heal wounds.
Deliberately choosing the optimum amount of protein, fat, and carbs for your metabolism and lifestyle will give you the maximum amount of energy. As far as energy goes, it doesn’t matter how the macronutrients taste.
Cell and Organ Health
Vitamins and minerals are necessary for healthy cells and organs. Without enough potassium, your muscles weaken which can cause irregular heart rhythm. A lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy leading to anemia, exhaustion, pain in the limbs and other undesirable effects. Vitamin D deficiency may lead to rickets or weakening of the bones.
While these and other micronutrients are only needed in small amounts, they are essential if you wish to remain healthy.
Dietary fiber is important to keep your digestive system moving. Fiber is resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine. It helps the colon move waste through the system. Fiber is plentiful in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Water plays a part in breaking down large food molecules into smaller ones. It helps your system transport waste from the body. Lack of water can lead to muscle cramps, headache, confusion, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, fainting, and even death.
As long as you consume sufficient quantity and variety of macronutrients, micronutrients, fiber, and water, enough rest, and plenty of exercise, your body will function well. It does not matter whether the nutrients look pretty, taste good, or are prepared with love using your grandmother’s recipe.
The form of food may not be important to its function, but if it is not appealing to our senses, we won’t choose to eat it.
How does the form of food affect our appetite?
Appeal to Our Senses
The science of neurogastronomy measures how the senses work together to enhance our experience of food. Eating is a multi-sensory experience. If you’ve ever walked into an office where someone just made popcorn, you know that you don’t have to see or taste the popcorn to want a handful. When a food causes multiple parts of our brain to light up, we will think the food tastes better. Obviously, we will choose foods that appeal to our senses.
And that’s where things start to get sticky. Form follows function in that we’re wired to find certain foods appealing, but while a juicy fresh peach may draw you in, so will the smell of fried chicken or French fries. And sugary cake, candy, ice cream, brownies, and doughnuts can feel irresistible. Things get even more complicated when you factor in all the manufactured and chemical flavorings or flavor enhancers we encounter on a regular basis.
Just because it’s appealing doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Fat makes food taste better, but is it healthy? There are differing opinions and conflicting studies. Some doctors will advise you to limit fat in your diet to avoid high blood cholesterol. Others will advise you to limit sugar rather than fat. Trying to stay on top of all newly published nutritional information is difficult enough, but when studies conflict and marketing dollars are spent to promote a particular food industry’s interest, it’s hard to know what to believe.
A new Harvard study shows that small dietary changes like eating more whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish and less red and processed meats and sugary beverages over time can reduce the risk of death. Nature does its part to make vegetables and fruits colorful, juicy, and often sweet. A delicious ripe tomato, raspberry, or pear is full of healthy vitamins and carbohydrates and needs no cooking or adornment to taste good. Both form and function are at a peak when we choose these foods.
Form vs Function
It seems like the dichotomy of form vs function has reared its head again. Many forms of food that appeal to us are unhealthy. That’s why it’s good to make function a constant priority. Good health is the same as optimal body function. Making food choices that maximize optimal body function over time are healthy choices.
Luckily, there are millions upon millions of delicious forms of healthy food from which we can choose each day! Keep the choices simple by prioritizing function, then choosing form.
(1)Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409.