A return to the simple joy of food

I've railed about the many problems the diet industry and mentality has created for us. Besides helping to trigger disordered eating and outright eating disorders in people, it has taken away the joy of eating.

Part of my master's thesis at Hopkins was discussing a mosquito-borne virus outbreak in Italy. The virus had arrived in the US, but there weren't any secondary cases; just the person who had been to India got sick. Everyone else stayed healthy. Why Italy? The region where the virus landed had a warm, dry August. People sat outside all day, enjoying good food and wine. They didn't have A/C, and they just ate and enjoyed each other's company. Being outside, of course, put them at risk for the virus. Part of the reason was that, in the US in Houston in August, you're not going to be relaxing outside. Too freaking humid. But the other reason is that people aren't going to be relaxing outside around a good meal.

Some people are trying (rightly) to change that. I read the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, and even if you don't agree with her "locavore" food style, her love of food and eating will take your breath away. Food is fuel, yes. But food--and it's growing and preparation--can be joyful and loving.

Writes Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times in an interview with Alice Waters:

My solution is not to try to feed children in the same way that fast food nation does — which is to figure out a gimmick to get them to eat something. It’s to bring them into a whole relationship with food that’s connected to nature and our culture.

No other country thinks about food as just fueling up. It’s always connected to the seasons, to nature, to what’s growing, to celebrations with family and friends. It’s a kind of moment in the day when you collect your thoughts and stop to sit down and to eat. Food is considered precious and vital, and farmers are treasured. We’ve allowed ourselves to be completely indoctrinated into another way of thinking about food in this country.

Food is fuel, of course. From a biological standpoint, it is. But food is intimately tied to culture, and while there's nothing wrong with grabbing the burger and eating it in the car (let's face it, sometimes it's necessary and it's not wrong and bad), but food can be so much more than just fuel.

Dieting takes that away. Food becomes good or bad, yes or no, saint or sin. Food is tallied: how many calories, how many fat grams, how many Points? It becomes a number, a lifeless, breathless entity of "I shouldn't have" staring up from your plate. My dietician- a first generation Italian immigrant- loved her food, and it was a wonderful model for me. Yes, my parents loved eating, too, but it was nice to see someone else doing that, too.

Some schools are bringing gardens to school. I don't agree with the let's-fight-childhood-obesity bent, but I do like the idea that kids are expanding their horizons with food. Seeing it as something to be savored and enjoyed.

I don't like the idea of "kid food," of just assuming that kids are going to want the chicken nuggets and fries because they're three. I actually didn't like fries as a kid, and even now I'm really selective. But I liked salads, I liked fruits, I liked vegetables because that's what I was served and expected to eat.

Food isn't about no, I already ate, or no, I'm on a "cleanse." Food is about give and take, about trying new things, about showing you care.

Food is good.

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mary said...

I like to eat! And I like to eat good homemade meals. It would be great if we all could savor each bite.
About Italy...the garlic is potent medicine. Fresh garlic eve better. Perhaps?
I think everyone ought to grow something...even a sugar snap pea or a bean stalk. It's a grand feeling to harvest our food and learn that it grows from dirt. Getting your hands dirty....good for you! : ) And this might equate to less anal people. I highly recommend dirt therapy! Then water!

Ai Lu said...


Yes! I agree with so much of what you have written in this post! Thanks for pointing the ways towards OTHER possible relationships with food.

Your site is so marvelous, you know.

Ai Lu

Elisa said...

Food….. this word makes me hungry.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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