Reading this blog, you have no doubt realized that I have a deep affection for food. If you follow any of my personal social media feeds you have seen just how often food pictures show up. I want to take a moment to talk about “eating well” and why these things matter to me. I am fortunate enough to have the disposable income to eat out more often than many other people, but also fortunate to have the skill and desire to cook even more often at home. I was raised to love food, and meals, and the family it creates. What does this mean to me?
First, food itself is a wonder and a pleasure. I am captivated by the sensory experience of eating – the flavors, the aromas, the textures, and the memories that come with food. For some, food is just a way to garner the Calories needed to make it through the day. The components of the meal are not a priority for these people. While I harbor these people no ill will, that is not my way. I want to be seduced by the flavors of the food and drawn into a new gustatory experience. As much as an engrossing book or an enchanting song, food can ignite my passions, curiosity, and joy. I want to be challenged with new combinations and ways of preparing the food that bring a little bit of the magic of life onto a plate.
Maybe I went a little heavy on the parsley
Second, I want food that gives me what it promises – at home or in a restaurant. For restaurants, they need to be true to who and what they are. Every meal doesn’t have to be a fine dining experience on white table clothes. When I go to The Box, I want what it has always promised – a southern style griddled burger, dripping with grease and served in a basket full of French fries. Is it healthy? Absolutely not. Is it a straightforward burger cooked on the same griddle for over 40 years? Yes. When I go to South on Main, I expect to see Southern cuisine with a new take that explores the vegetables and proteins both from the region. If I am asked to pay a premium for something, I expect to receive a premium product in the skill or ingredients. At home, when I am cooking, if I make poached chicken breasts with a tarragon cream sauce, I want to have an experience that makes me think of the French countryside. If I want comfort food, tomato soup and a grilled cheese is a paragon of simplicity but also of that comfort. No meal is wasted if it provides just what it promises you.
Third, when I cook at home, I want to cook and not just assemble my meal. It is far too easy to put together several premade and prepackaged components and call it a meal. I want to see what I start from – I can make a soup; why would I open a can of soup with three times the sodium and half the flavor? Is this a little bit of a luxury? Sure. For me, the benefits outweigh the costs by getting to create the food I am eating and serving. It lets me know that I am making food that is better for me than if I pull it out of a box. A number of studies have made the rounds lately talking about how the single biggest change we could make in the U.S. to improve our health is to cook at home instead of eating out or assembling the food. I fall in love with cooking each and every time I get to spend an uninterrupted thirty or forty or sixty minutes cleaning, prepping, and cooking a meal at home. A meal can be cooked in half an hour or less, and a few simple recipes can make thousands of dishes. Why do we feel the need to succumb to the false promise of “simplicity” just to take our post-modern TV dinners into the living room instead of the dining room?
Fourth, and most importantly, eating well means having true meals. Perhaps they have become a rarity, but I grew up in a family that tried to have a family dinner together at the dining room table as often as possible. When you eat a meal together, you are sharing more than just the dish itself. Food is a constant in human culture and sharing food with others is a sign of intimacy and community. Rituals and culture are built around sharing food and occasions to eat food – how many holidays do we celebrate with ritual food? The Thanksgiving turkey; an Italian-American family with the Feast of the Seven Fishes; black eyed peas on New Year’s Day; Chocolate on Valentine’s Day. I have said before that “Food is love” because when you share your food, you are literally sharing life with someone. What matters to me, on eating well, is sitting down to a table and eating, laughing, and sharing a moment in time with people who matter to me, at home or in a restaurant. It is a tired refrain, I am sure, and one oft repeated across generations but we should focus on eating together, and not just in the same room. Meals are high rituals of everyday life where we gather with one another to share our stories and share our time. We should put the focus back on that connection, instead of the electronic one. Even eating alone is a chance to connect with yourself, by setting yourself a plate and taking the time, even just 15 or twenty minutes, to reflect on your day with your meal. The promise of food, and of eating, to me is the promise of life, community, and love.
These are the things I think about when I think about food and eating well. What drives you when you think about food? Do you want to explore the joys of food and what it brings? Are you seeking a way to be healthier or more self-sufficient? Do you also see meals as a time to connect with life? Let me know in the comments.