You wake from restless sleep in a cold sweat. You grab at the last wisps of memory. What were you dreaming? A large rolling object was chasing you, a boulder, and you were wearing a fedora... no, that's Raiders, concentrate. It was... you've got it! A giant bagel chasing you through a saffron field! Then you turned into a bartender serving yourself butter and a finger of whiskey. A food dream. But does it all mean?
According to dream dictionaries, you might be avoiding a deceitful lover and escaping life's demands by indulging in its pleasures — at the peril of losing friends.
"You can interpret a dream forever," noted Ryan Hurd, who runs Dream Studies, a blog that blends dream education and consciousness studies. "But sometimes they are merely expressing the body's desires and feelings through the emotional/visual/long-term-memory-enhanced way of knowing we call dreaming."
Looking through online dream dictionaries, you see what Mr. Hurd means. One notes that seeing asparagus in a dream can be a symbol of prosperity, but that eating it may indicate your actions will result in an unpleasant outcome (yeah, a bad smell). So which is it?
Then there's the intersection of food and sex. Apples, bananas, figs, mangos, nuts, pineapples, pomegranate, and strawberries are all said to represent sex or sexual desires in some form.
According to Dr. Vernoica Tonay, a licensed psychologist and author of three books about dreams, "Dream dictionaries are basically useless as they are written by people who think something like, 'Hmm... dreaming of a hamburger, well, that must mean the dreamer is wanting some meat in life. That is, they just make up the interpretations from thin air."
So how to make sense of food in dreams? According to Dr. Tonay, if dreaming consists of a metaphorical language, and food is the nurturing sustenance, the dreams with food often reflect ways we nurture ourselves, and how well.So how to make sense of food in dreams? According to Dr. Tonay, if dreaming consists of a metaphorical language, and food is the nurturing sustenance, the dreams with food often reflect ways we nurture ourselves, and how well.
"Ideally, when you dream about food, you dream about eating things that are good for you, that actually do provide nutrients and sustenance and energy," Dr. Tonay explained. "But if you dream about pastries, desserts, and so on, that may indicate you are attempting to nurture yourself with unhealthy, but briefly satisfying, 'food' (which may represent actual food, people, situations, or activities)."
"On the other hand, if in dreams you feel deprived of or tempted by a certain food, you may actually need the specific kind of "nurturance" that food represents. For example, you love donuts, and dream while you're eating a salad, that you long for a donut. Beyond the obvious wish-fulfillment motive of the dream ('I would love to eat a donut!'), consider that what you really need is what donuts represent to you."
Dr. Tonay suggests an exercise to reveal that meaning. Write the word "donut" in the center of a piece of paper, imagine the donut, then write the first thing to come to mind. Do this until you've exhausted all associations. They will reveal what a donut means to you.
For instance, you may have had a memory of eating your very first donut (from one of your most favorite donut places in the world) at a birthday party, which suggests you may need to experience feeling celebrated, or whatever you felt then. "Then think of a way you can give yourself wonder or celebration without eating a donut, and do that for yourself," noted Dr. Tonay, "This technique helps reduce cravings for specific foods while awake, too!"
If you're not ready for the work that the recommended exercises above may involve, check out the more eyebrow-raising interpretations of iconic and interesting foods adapted from the online dream dictionary, Dream Moods. From abalone to watermelons, you may be surprised what you'll discover.
Abalone: A symbol of transition. Perhaps also a play on words indicating "loneliness."
Alcohol: Dreams of enjoying alcohol in moderation denotes contentment and satisfaction. Also, perhaps a metaphor for "spirits" and the need for spiritual enrichment. To dream you are consuming alcohol in excess signifies feelings of inadequacy, worries, regrets, and fear of being discovered for your true self. You are using alcohol to escape, or as an excuse. Alternatively, the dream may be reflective of waking issues and alcoholism.
Bacon: Bacon symbolizes essentials and staples. It may be a play on the phrase "bringing home the bacon." Dreams of rancid bacon may suggest a forbidden situation.
Bagel: To see or eat a bagel suggests life is missing key elements — you are not whole. Alternatively, it refers to sexual urges.
Barbecue: Barbecue refers to a minor issue or transformation occurring in your waking life. To dream you are barbecuing symbolizes togetherness, relaxation, and ease.
Bartender: To dream you're a bartender suggests wanting to escape the demands of daily life. It also may be a pun indicating you are creating a barrier.
Butter: A symbol suggesting a search for gratification. You need to indulge in life's pleasure.
Ham: To dream you are eating ham indicates a need to preserve energy. To see a ham indicates you are experiencing emotional difficulties. It may also be metaphor to suggest desire for attention.
Lemons: To see a lemon in a dream indicates something of inferior quality. To eat or suck a lemon refers to a need to cleanse or heal. To see shriveled lemons foretells a bitter separation/divorce for you and your lover, or spouse.
Sandwich: To see a sandwich suggests pressure being put on you. It also reflects your ability to do two things at once. Eating a fish sandwich indicates conflict between spirituality and practicality.
Muffins: Baking muffins denotes being a hard worker. Dreams of eating them signifies a taste for exquisite and expensive things.
Oysters: Dreams of eating oysters signify you will lose your senses and morality to pursue low pleasures and indulgences. Oysters can symbolizes beauty, humility, wealth, wisdom, and a laid-back atmosphere. This symbol may also indicate the shutting out of others. Alternatively, the dream may be saying, "the world is your oyster." To see oyster shells signifies you will be frustrated in your attempt to secure the fortune of another.
Pickle: To see a pickle signifies anxiety, fear, or realization that you will be in trouble. Alternatively, it may be a priapic symbol.
Pineapple: To see a pineapple represents self-confidence, ambition, and success. You are self-assured. Alternatively, the pineapples symbolize hospitality. It could mean you need to relax or take a vacation. To eat a pineapple, indicates sexual problems and issues of losing control.
Pizza: To see or eat pizza represents abundance, choices, and variety. It may also indicate you are lacking or feeling deprived.
Pork: A symbol denoting desire for normalcy and routine. It could also be a pun on overspending.
Potato Chip: A symbol of overindulgent behavior.
Pretzel: To see a pretzel symbolizes devotion and life's rewards — embracing life and extending yourself to help others. Alternatively, it may indicate preoccupation with a complex issue.
Salt: To see or taste salt represents a new found flare in waking life, an experience of increased worth and a higher sense of vigor. Alternatively, salt symbolizes dependability, truth, and dedication. Consider the phrase "throwing salt on an open wound;" the dream may allude to a painful memory. Dreams about salting meat symbolize longevity, or wanting to keep something. A dream about throwing salt over your shoulder represents protection or luck.
Watermelon: To see a watermelon represents love, desire, lust, and fiery passion. Pregnant women or women on the verge of a menstrual cycle often dream of fruits like watermelons.
Whiskey: To see whiskey in bottles symbolizes alertness, carefulness, and a protective nature. To dream you are drinking whiskey alone signifies selfishness at the cost of losing friends.
This article was originally published as How to Interpret Food Dreams (2/23/2011).