The culture of eating
I am sitting here thinking about dinner tonight, correction, I am overthinking dinner tonight. I have a lot to celebrate this week, I made a very big career move. I would very much love to exhale and enjoy something that feels lavish but can I?
Am I allowed?
Is it responsible
I am starting to learn about the world of wines and am very much a newborn in the realm of culture and cuisine. I have already visited my local wine store and I have decided to experiment with a wine called a supertuscan this week, seems like a safe choice. After I decided on my wine, I took a breath, swallowed my social anxiety and initiated a conversation with the gentlemen who own the shop I frequent about what would pair well with the wine I chose. Ideally, I could choose some nice parmesan and a bit of crusty bread and I am kind wanting some salty olives and sun-dried tomatoes. It could be quite a lovely relaxing vibe buuuuuttttt, the calories….
Maybe I should have my regular salad. That doesnt feel as enriching although it may be more responsible.
UGH, I am always responsible.
The struggle begins and the tapes begin to play.
I have no issue forgoing it all and having a salad and cleaning the house but thats just it, I associate the salad with responsibility and the bread, cheese and wine with the experience of enjoying and exhaling. I have never explored the world of savoring food, I am a bodybuilder and a fitness professional "who gives a fuck about food" has always been my self imposed motto. Well now I do. I accidentally discovered that food is about more than calories and macros and that I could eat for reasons outside of fat loss and muscle gain.
A few weeks back I wrote a blog called savor where I discussed going out for dinner with my husband and all of a sudden I realized I was having an experience. I was completely present and it got me thinking about the potential impact the art of savoring could have on our overall health. I offer myself as an example, I am a shoveler, I eat standing up (drives my husband crazy), I dont really care about flavor (except for salt, I love salt), I will eat what I need to eat to produce the outcome I am seeking, I rarely focus on the experience. But, a few weeks ago, I did and since then, I have. I am noticing that my cravings are less and I am eating less. I have begun to slow down and taste the food that I am eating. The experience got me thinking about our culture or lack there of. We dont have a culture that permits or encourages us to slow down and enjoy. We rush, eat processed food, beat ourselves up for not looking the way we are told we should and then we start a diet and divorce ourself from hunger, take a pill, drink the shake, fit the mold.
I have always been passionate about health and fitness. In the past few years I have become consumed with advocacy and social change. Now it seems I am adding writing to the mix. Therefore, today all of my paths are intersecting. My eyes see things differently anymore and I digest information in weird ways. Along this quest I realized that the whole of our society is suffering on some level. There is a collective unhappiness and unrest surrounding our self image and appearance. It's more than an individual issue, its a societal one, this is way bigger than us.
We are all so caught up in the running around that we have lost sight of the importance of infusing quality into our lives.
Food and the culture of eating touches all of us no matter what space you are currently hanging out in. We are all somewhere on the spectrum of involved or avoiding changing our health, enjoying being involved with exploring and improving our health or really enjoying indulging at some point in each of our lives we have probably occupied all of these spaces.
It's fair to say that the house we grow up in has an impact on the lives we create for ourselves. My childhood house was a certainly a diet culture house. Both of my parents were very conscious of the importance of appearance and worked out regularly to keep themselves looking just right. Many of the dinners in my childhood house were weight watchers recipes, my mother was a lifelong member and she counted every calorie, except when she got exhausted of dieting and then the dam would break and a binge would ensue. When I reached the age of 11 it was time to start dieting, a seeming rite of passage. It was my turn to look the part. I restricted with the best of them using what little I learned from Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda. Occasionally, I did the pig out and binge thing but. I dont think that is synonymous with truly enjoying food. Interestingly, I never binged until I began dieting. My understanding was look good at all costs. I realize now, in my 40's how much of my life passed me by as I was counting all of the calories. Enjoying and savoring are skills that I am just now learning.
I just finished watching a series called "Stanley Tucci learns Italy" in it an Italian actor named Stanley Tucci tours Italy and explores culture and food and tradition and all of the Beauty and pride that lies within the space. He visits towns and cities within Italy to talk to natives and learn of their food, culture and their traditions. There the foods they grow and eat are very much a part of who they are. As I watched I noticed they slowed down, they enjoyed the growing, the preparing the serving and the eating their meals. There is even meaning behind the way they serve the food they are so very connected to it. I was pulled in by one episode where they discussed the ritual of serving rabbit at the family table, the patriarch was served first and then the children because they are our future and then the mother last (aint it always the way). It was beautiful I took quite a big pause. I felt inspired by their cultural threads, food, life, love. In Italy it appears that they are connected to everything about what they eat from the history to the growth and the rituals of serving. Here we are so incredibly scattered and confused, we lack cohesion, love or joy. We are busy, busy being too fat, too thin, better than, worse than, and trying to rise to the top while we run around on a hamster wheel.
Most people dont eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, the concept of stopping when full is talked about in an almost joking way. I was sharing my thoughts with another personal trainer friend of mine who lived in Italy for many years. She shared her personal account of the contrast between the two societies.
"More shopping for groceries is done in the immediate community that allows people to walk for their groceries. Even small towns have a weekly farm market that allows those without transportation fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses….. Their “fast food” is something you would pick up at the bar and all of that stuff is made fresh. Although, with McDonald’s getting a foothold into their culture as I moved away, this could be changing among the young. Eating is more of a ritual and gathering over there. There are foods they eat in which the main idea is to slow you down. For example, roasted artichokes where you peel off leaf by leaf and pull through your teeth just to get the tinny tiny piece that is edible and delicious because of the parsley and garlic it is roasted in. My mother-in-law used to say you take a bite of artichoke and then a sip of wine…..and this process would give your stomach time to digest before the next course and also enjoy the company of others. I think Italians, perhaps Europeans in general, are better at savoring food for it’s taste, preparation and the company it brings versus filling an emotional hole that I see so many Americans doing, "
Here it seems diet culture IS our culture, it's quite pervasive in our society. Most of us dont believe that we are worthy of enjoying our food, especially if we are in a larger body. If we eat something we deem as sinful we likely feel shame which negates the entire experience. The belief is that If we go without we are better, a higher caliber of human. If we are thinner we are better people worthy of admiration. I remember my mother saying "nothing tastes as good as thin feels" . I believed that for years and now I am not so sure. That well known saying which is meant to help or inspire can actually create a harmful dynamic with food as exhibited by the fact that I am just now discovering the art of actually tasting and enjoying food and writing a blog about how mind blowing this new discovery is.
Since being a coach I have come to know many women like my mother or my grandmother, many people base our worth on how well we are succeeding at shrinking. A few months back there was a conversation in one of my classes about diet pills, most of us had taken them at some point. The conversation soon branched off into discussions of the cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet and other random torturous protocols that were popular at some point. Ridiculous yet notorious diets were a cultural thread in our conversation that day, we all had many funny colorful stories about the weight we lost and re-gained. This is our culture, the culture of shrinking and feeling shame if we arent able to shrink small enough.
A few weeks after that discussion in my class about diets I tried to start a discussion about food and favorite meals and the history of favorite meals and noticed that the conversation wasnt as robust as the one about diets, this one was comparatively flimsy. Some women shared about their experiences eating "bad food" as though it was a shameful thing. Soon the room was bonding over shared shame but Nobody was boding over enjoyment.
Body shame binds us.
Diets bind us.
Struggle binds us.
Years ago I saw a post about a book called Modern food Moral food, by Helen Zoe Veit, the title intrigued me. I ordered a copy immediately and immersed myself in it. The book discusses the attitudes of self control around eating based on practices in the early twentieth century. The era gave birth to a morality of gained by abstaining from certain foods, the more a person could go without the higher in society they would rank. There was ettiquite associated with going without. I notice this same mood now except for different reasons. The tighter your diet and the smaller you are the better you are.
The diet and supplement industry is a trillion dollar industry because the struggle is real and there is money to be made. It seems as though more attention on the problem and shrinking and weight loss is actually increasing weight gain and adding to our collective unhappiness.
So thats it in our society, diet culture? Thats our culture? Other societies have beautiful dishes with rich history and rituals that involve rest and enjoyment. Here we have hustle culture and diet culture. We are part of a culture that poisons us and blames us for drinking the poison we are served.
I should probably wrap it up here and offer some insight or helpful action but I cant. This isnt over. My eyes are just opening and I have a whole lot to say on this topic. I have many thoughts that are yet to be thunk. For today, I will wrap it up by saying that hopefully this will get you thinking about your eating culture. If there isnt any quality in it maybe infuse some. We all deserve more quality.
For all of these reasons, after reading what I just wrote I am opting for the wine, bread and cheese.