I believe that it was a British politician who said (50 or so years ago, when we still had some worth quoting): “You can tell a lot about a man by how he eats”. I can’t remember who it was but the phrase stayed with me because I agree with it (it goes for women too).
Much later, in an article by a Roumanian psychologist, I read that meals should be eaten in company, and only “with people you like” My immediate thought was that this would rule out a lot of family meals. This was followed by a flash or recognition; I’d rather eat alone than risk having to digest the company of a disagreeable person.
You might think that such judgemental language shows me to be disagreeable, but sit down to eat with me and you’ll find you are wrong (on a good day, with the wind behind me, when we are both in a good mood… etc). Anyway, blogs are about opinions, and I’ve been told that you should always respect someone’s right to have an opinion even if it’s hard to swallow.
Like a lot of sayings, there is more than a grain of truth in the ones that remain popular; they contain ingredients which could be included in a recipe for living. Not to be taken too literally, they nevertheless draw our attention to an aspect of life that could benefit from attention. In this case, the aspect is eating.
There’s a lot of emphasis on it these days. Food and its consumption take up thousands of column inches in our newspapers and almost as many hours on TV. But there’s precious little attention given to HOW we eat. Taking time to consider how, where and with whom we eat may seem incompatible with modern lifestyles, but that’s just the point. Wise Eating (I just made that up in case you want to credit me) acts as a counter-balance to the unwise things that have crept into the lives of many of us.
I don’t mean table manners or the etiquette of eating, though these are obviously an important part of social behaviour (have you ever sat across the table from someone who eats noisily and/or with their mouth open, or someone who picks at their food as though it contains a toxin?)
How to eat then?
HOW you eat goes deeper. this is a list of examples that I can think of right now:
- Always sit down to eat, never eat on the move (this also rules out eating on trains and planes, if you can manage it)
- Only eat when you are hungry (if you can’t recognise the signs you are probably eating too much. Follow the guidance here and hunger will return)
- If you are active or you work all day you need a break at lunchtime, even if it is a short one. Take it, and use it wisely. Never eat while working
- Look into the Slow Food movement. You don’t have to go the whole hog (or parsnip if you are vegan), but the core ideas can transform your approach to food and eating
- Prepare and cook food at home. Follow the dietary advice by including predominantly vegetables
- Eat at mealtimes, sitting at a table. Avoid rushing by making a conscious decision that this mealtime deserves your full attention. Before the meal, close your eyes for a moment and focus inwardly on what you are about to do. You can even offer a prayer (I don’t mean a religious one necessarily)
- Make each meal a celebration. Not a big-deal birthday party kind of thing, but a celebration of life, health and having made it this far (in your day, in life, or whatever)
- If you do nothing else, do this: eat mindfully. This will enable you to be fully aware of what you put in your mouth, noticing taste as you rarely do. The knock-on to this is that when you really learn to savour and appreciate flavour, processed and other foods (and drinks) bolstered with salt, sugar and additives taste disagreeable. There are all sorts of benefits when you eat mindfully, and, if you do it properly, dieting becomes unnecessary
- Food is meant to be enjoyed and to nourish you, not fill you with anxiety and regret.Eating should be a social event where possible; a time for family to come together or to chew the fat with others at the table.
- Always make sure that you are sitting in as nice an environment as possible. Choose a calm spot in the restaurant away from the muzak, eat away from your desk if working, find a sacred place if you can.
You might think I’ve gone weird, or that I have unlimited time to do all this stuff. I haven’t gone any weirder than I already was and I do as much as possible of this stuff in my (mostly) extremely busy and productive days. Before you disregard the points above, consider that all of them can be borne out by supporting studies, all I have done is cobbled a list together.
There are many more benefits than I’ve mentioned here (quality family time, training kids to eat well, better digestion, a healthier diet without effort, for starters).
If you are still not convinced, remember the words of Elsa Schiaparelli: “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 the morale”. You might ask “What does a fashion designer know about food?” Well, she was Italian.