We need to stop viewing food as an indulgence, as something that is somehow sinister, or worse – something that is utilitarian and consumed simply out of necessity. These are the extremes of consumption – feelings that we either celebrate or hide – feelings of guilt or annoyance that permeate our everyday lives. To some – the pleasures of eating are somehow breaking a pact with our body and can only be enjoyed if we violate some established code of what is acceptable. We indulge in eating chocolate, butter, cream, steak, cheese, or dessert and are relegated to feeling somewhat guilty when we do. It seems to taste better when we go against this pact and test our will power to resist or succumb. We feel satisfied and somehow sinister for consuming and enjoying the experience of eating luscious foods and believe that in doing so we will: “pay the price”.
At the other extreme, some believe that resisting consumption is noble and all who do not are somehow violators of an unwritten rule of good living. To this extreme – food is only for survival. Eating is a process designed to fuel the body with what is necessary and avoid any step into the realm of enjoyment. Cooking and seasoning that may excite the palate are not in keeping with the rule of the food survivalist.
Food is a gift; it is a natural connection that we all have to nature and the cycle of life. Pleasure is also a gift that is available in several forms. To avoid the pleasure that good, tasty, well-prepared food is to ignore a gift that is precious and important.
“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to human morale.”
When we cook food with pleasure in mind, we open the door to so many opportunities. Well prepared food, food made with caring and good feelings towards all who brought ingredients to the kitchen table, and all who are about to consume the “end product”, is a symbol of openness and a sign of willingness to bring peace, happiness, and understanding to the plate. It is one of the most significant things that can be done for another person – to cook is to open the heart, the mind, and the soul. This process is a magical expression of a cook’s history and traditions, dedication to a craft, and desire to serve. Cooking is a highly personal act.
It is over a plate of food that we begin to understand another person, to appreciate their background and their feelings. When we break bread together, we symbolically open the door to possibility. Great food breaks down barriers, sets aside differences, stimulates positive conversation, brings a smile to even the most somber face, and sets the stage for transitional conversation. This is why state dinners, business meetings, weddings, reunions, conferences, workshops, holiday tables, and memorials focus so much on a plate of food. It is food that brings people together – even those who seem to suffer from the demons of hate, mistrust, fear, angst, disappointment, and uncertainty.
The greatest travesty in the world is that millions of people are malnourished and suffer a lack of pleasurable eating. It may very well be the root of so much dissent and anger between the haves and the have nots. This is the most severe crime in a world where production is not the issue but rather access and greed. If we solve the world hunger problem, we will go very far in bringing people together for the common good.
“We know that a peaceful world cannot long exist, one-third rich and two-thirds hungry.”
– Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States.
“Close to a billion people – one-eighth of the world’s population – still live in hunger. Each year 2 million children die through malnutrition. This is happening at a time when doctors in Britain are warning of the spread of obesity. We are eating too much while others starve.”
– Jonathan Sacks, Jewish scholar.
“The first essential component of social justice is adequate food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.”
– Norman Borlaug, biologist, and humanitarian.
For others who are oblivious to the problem of hunger there is the dilemma of “reason”: why do we eat. If it begins and ends with seeking fuel to exist, then our lives will be shallow and incomplete. Eating well is a key to opening the door of understanding, of appreciating others and expanding our knowledge of differences, of stimulating the senses and understanding pleasure.
“Eating is so intimate. It’s very sensual. When you invite someone to sit at your table (whether your home or your restaurant) and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.”
When we sit at another person’s table we are asking for a tour of their upbringing, their life experiences, their desires, the flavors of their life, and the dreams they foster – when you cook for someone else you are letting them in, dropping the barriers and opening yourself up to seeing who they truly are. When you choose to eat what others have cooked you are also showing them how willing you are to keep an open mind and be vulnerable.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.”
- Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
When a cook steps into his or her kitchen there is an understanding that this is the center of the universe during that moment. This is a space to revere for it holds the key to their heritage. This is where the influence of a great grandmother, a mother or father, a fellow chef or chef mentor, or experiences in eating that the cook holds close to heart, come into play. This is where all of this is expressed through the knife, the hands, the palate, the mind, heart, and soul; this is where it all comes together in an expression of love.
“The kitchen is a sacred place.”
- Marc Forgione
Too often, eating is a process. The advent of convenience whether it be how ingredients are presented or the methods of cooking available, have crushed the soul of cooking and consumption. Learning how to pay respect for eating begins with the simple rules of dining. If we are to begin to change and see what we may have been missing during consumption of food, we must look towards a new set of habits.
“Too many people just eat to consume calories. Try dining for a change.”
Here are some simple habits that can be adopted by all who prepare and consume well-prepared food:
- Set the table. Try using tablecloths, well set tabletop, poured water, a single flower centerpiece, soft background music, mood lighting.
- Make sure everyone sits at the same time – no excuses.
- Present the meal – serve well-presented plates and introduce the dish.
- Turn off your phones – no excuses.
- Talk about the food – the ingredients, the farmers and ranchers, fish mongers, how it was prepared, reflections on the flavors and presentation.
- Wait until everyone has finished – don’t be rude.
- Give thanks for the meal – need not be a prayer, just a simple: “Thanks, that was delicious.”
Of course, gluttony is different. It is not respect for food, but rather a lack of control that seeks to turn a wonderful pleasure into a tool for self-destruction. For some, it is a crutch to help hide frustration, disappointment, discontent, anxiety, and depression – and in those cases intervention with the cause is the only remedy that works to improve the health of the individual while maintaining the rule of moderation.
Food should not be an indulgence or a necessary evil – it is a joy to be shared and a common denominator in life. Food is the universal language that can bring people together and help dissolve differences. Food is Mother Nature’s gift that we should revere, respect, and enjoy.
These past three years have provided us with many lessons about safety, disease, human nature, information and misinformation, preparedness, our fragile supply chain, and global economics. We have also learned more about ourselves, our capacity to adjust, our families, and even our kitchens. Out of necessity we have returned to our kitchens to re-learn how to cook and care for our families, to respect what restaurants do and how important they are to our peace of mind and our lifestyle, and just how special food can be when we slow down – just a bit. Let’s not forget this. Let’s continue to invest in food and dining, not as an indulgence or necessary evil, but rather as a gift and an opportunity.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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