27 February 2010

Lesson #6: Pay attention to food.

Food is important.  I already mentioned how it supports my body in Lesson #1. But food is important, at least to me, for a whole lot of other reasons.

  • Food is seasonal -- though we've kind of stretched this, as a culture supported by Agribusiness, types of produce, different recipes, etc are in some way seasonal.  Nothing puts me in a mindset for summer like a fresh tomato, that really tastes like a tomato.  The smell of pumpkin pie or roasted squash screams fall.  It's an adventure, to go to the farmer's market only sort of knowing what I'll be able to find. 
  • Community in meals -- sharing food is very natural to me.  I get together regularly with some of my best friends for pot-luck style dinners.  Often, when I want to bake, I bring the extra in to work.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where we had regular family dinners, fairly often.
  • It's fun to cook -- I love the experience of trying new flavors.  I love to cook.  I love to turn up the radio, sing, dance around the kitchen, and cook.  On a bad day, it's soup.  This is a pretty good release.
  • I can express myself -- The things I choose to cook, and how I cook them, say something about who I am.  It's a chance to be creative.  And then there's the actual act of changing something, making something that wasn't there before.  That's pretty cool.
  • There is intimacy in sharing food with someone --  Not necessarily THAT way. There must be a reason why going out to dinner is such a popular date event/celebration.  Of all the close relationships I've had, whether they ended well or poorly, I remember certain meals we shared.  It was nice cooking for that special person, making something I thought they'd like. 
  • Food is engaging -- it involves every sense - sight, sound, taste, touch, and of course, smell.
  • Food is a touchstone -- I have family or personal traditions that involve certain foods or drinks.  I love when the holidays come around, and I see those favorites on the table.  It just adds to the feeling that the time is special.
I think many people would agree with one or more items on the list.  But I think, as a culture, we tend to treat food as a requirement, or a commodity, a band-aid, or even an enemy.  We eat meals out of paper sacks, or meals that contain, in one sitting, all the calories we need for the day.  We focus on diets that can be extreme, from calorie restriction to those suspect 'cleanse' drinks in the vitamin aisle that make me angry.  We villify food, and link it to body image, which results in tons of problems in terms of eating disorders.  We shovel away potato chips, or worse, munch on conventionally-grown apples without thinking about where they came from or how they were grown.

Don't get me wrong.  I love chips.  I eat junk, because I'm 27, going on 28, and I know I still can.  I don't always buy organic, because frankly, it can be expensive.  But I try to think about it.  I try to buy healthier items when I can, buy local, seasonal, etc.  Going to the Farmer's Market is cool, even if I still have to go to the grocery store to get the things I need.  Last time I was there, the dude at one tent introduced me to some new greens I'd never tried, let me taste them, and told me how to cook them.  I enjoyed talking to the farmer.  And I found out where my bag of greens came from.

So, as I've made lifestyle changes to help my body do the activities I want to do, I've thought more about my food.  I try to cook more at home, because I enjoy it, and because I can control what goes into the meal.  I pay attention to how much I'm eating, and when I'm full.  I try to balance my occasional foray into Five Guys Burger And Fries with a healthier meal at lunch, and plenty of water.  I read about cooking and new ingredients, and challenge myself to try new things.  And eating has become, most nights, a mindful experience, something I can enjoy.  I haven't quite gotten to the point where I turn the TV off when I'm eating... but.. well.. let's not get too crazy.  At least it's usually set to the Food Network.

How do you share food with the people in your life?  Does it play a role in your traditions?  Do you ever try to buy local, or organic -- and do you think it makes a difference?

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