Over the years, I have noticed an evolving theme in my personal journey with food. And it started, as with so many of us, the first time I realized that the farm fresh natural label held no truth, and that the reality was stranger than fiction. Food companies are constantly taking short cuts to bulk up food and save a few pennies, pennies! Or finding ways to produce something in shorter time and save on production costs. And as a result, we are eating things we should not be eating, prepared in a way that is less than ideal, and our food makes us feel unwell instead of nourished.
As a result of this enlightenment, my personal journey progressed as follows: disbelief, horror, anger, and now, paranoia. So here’s where I am at: feeling hostile towards my food. The more I read, the more I know, the more overwhelmed and frustrated I am, and it is not just about labels. Milk is an inflammatory, bread contains gluten (read: evil incarnate), sugar is really a dangerously addictive gateway drug, and red meat causes cancer. WTF!?! As a society, I don’t think there has ever been as much controversy and drastic intentional diet overhauls as we are seeing today as we scramble over elimination diets, pre-historic diets, GI diets, and more, to combat what has been done to our food, and try to resolve the resulting health issues. I know a large number of people who, like me, struggle to reconcile brand names we have been loyal to and products we love, with a complex range of options that never seem to be ideal: pastured butter vs organic butter vs local butter vs soy free margarine, OR local eggs vs organic eggs vs not organic but pastured eggs vs free range eggs with omega’s . . . the list goes on. Don’t you find it stressful? Grocery shopping has become an experience riddled with guilt, disappointment, disillusion, frustration and deer-in-the-headlights paralysis over which eggs are the best eggs.
And then I watched Cooked, starring Michael Pollan. Several friends had made the recommendation that I watch it with such passion, I was intrigued enough to put aside my semi-subconscious avoidance of all scary food films, and settle in with Netflix. I loved it. It was not laden with information, no scientists were interviewed, and for the first time in a while, there was no evil food villain. Instead, what Michael Pollan did with this series was celebrate food and our relationship with it. It was refreshing. It was inspiring. It gave me a new level of awareness, and moved me one more step along my food journey path towards reconciliation.
I have a greater awareness of my emotional relationship with food; I no longer want to have those anxiety filled internal debates in the supermarket. I no longer want to feel suspicious, or scared to death of the very thing that is supposed to sustain life. My position on what I choose to avoid has not changed, but my appreciation for what’s good, and wholesome, and nourishing has deepened. Food is beautiful, it is glorious, it nourishes, and it brings people together. When food is made properly, it is a celebration. And when we approach our food with reverence, it becomes something sacred. And therein lays my recent epiphany.
I also understand now, that 99% of our problem as a modern society is that food and the act of eating has been cheapened. And it is has nothing to do with the cost of it. Eating has become something we have to get out of the way so that we can get back to work, watch TV, get to soccer practice . . . we eat at our desks, we eat in our car, we eat while we walk, we eat while we are busy, we eat mindlessly – it’s consumerism in its purest form. And it is about priorities I’m afraid. If mealtimes were a time to slow down, connect, and nourish, if mealtimes were sacred, we would not tolerate anyone messing with it. If culturally, we cherished family recipes, and stopped to savor our food seasoned with conversation, we would immediately notice the difference between a decent nourishing meal, and some of the additives, fillers, and preservatives being passed off as food, and we wouldn’t tolerate that either.
My most personal takeaway is that preparing food and sharing it with someone else is an act of love, humility, and respect. I’m definitely inspired to spend more time in the kitchen making beautiful food, and nothing about that statement leaves me feeling anxious or paranoid. It feels healthy. It feels good.
By Pamela Denholm