Food as Pleasure

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Some food for thought this week…

There’s a short scene in the movie “Chocolat” (featuring Johnny Depp with long hair!) in which every major character attends a birthday dinner for Judi Dench’s town matriarch. The standout star of the scene is the delicious food the characters eat, and in just a few seconds, it’s obvious how much pleasure every bite gives.

homemade chocolate chip cookies

The characters smile through half-closed eyes as they fully immerse themselves in every mouthful. They take in the smell, the texture, and the taste as they chew and swallow. They look at each other knowing they are all sharing the same experience.

This scene goes out of its way to remind the viewer of how pleasurable food can be. What a delight.

But in real life, sometimes we forget this pleasure.

When was the last time you sat down to a meal and immersed yourself in it? You probably ate breakfast on the go this morning, talked through lunch, and are thinking about grocery shopping for dinner, not the physical experience of eating it. And I’m in that same boat.  

I hear people say “food is fuel,” “I wish I didn’t have to spend time eating 3 times a day,” and drinking Soylent to avoid real meals. I hate everything about this! BUT, I do it too. Ok not the Soylent thing, that’s too far removed from actual food for me, but the rest of it.

I live in a busy world. Our society prizes productivity and efficiency above all else; busyness is a point of pride.

And if eating is cast to the sidelines, it’s not important anyway. It’s a to-do-list item during the week when I’m on the go. I can drink a protein shake and get back to work, to the errands, to the phone calls. And in doing this I can free up my time for better things.

Like…what exactly?

Ignoring the experience and joy of eating misses out on a big part of living. Food can be so grounding. It is physical, it gets me out of my head and into something tangible in that moment and that's really valuable to me.

The other reason this is important, of course, is how much WORK and ENERGY goes into growing food, transporting it, and preparing it. It’s a disservice to all the people, plants, and animals in that system to scarf it down in bites between emails while standing at my desk. But, I’m ashamed to admit, I do it.

How can I balance this interest in what I’ll call “pleasurable eating” with the current demands of my life? I put those demands on myself, so it’s up to me to set limits and change them. The major goals of the food system in America over the past few decades have been more, faster, cheaper, easier. To break away from that and get back to the pleasure of eating (Slow Food has it right), it takes awareness, intent, and commitment.

Last week, I decided to spend ONE DAY actually paying attention to my food in order to enjoy it. It was hard and it took time. I was so easily distracted! After one bite of enjoying my sandwich at work, my eye caught a flutter of leaves outside my office window and off my mind went in a different direction thinking about shades of green as wedding colors (!). It helped to close my eyes for a few bites after that.

mindfully eating lunch

This isn’t feasible most of the time. When I’m eating with others, it’s a social activity and I’m not going to sit in silence focusing on the food the entire meal. Instead, I’ve been trying to slyly work the conversation toward food to draw attention to what we’re eating, at least for a moment. After all, even in Chocolat, after paying monumental respect to the pleasures of the food, the characters return to conversation.

So next time you and I sit down to eat, let’s have a moment of recognition for the pleasure of the food we’re putting in our mouths.