For centuries, communities have gathered to break bread, to enjoy the bounty of the land, the fruits of their labor. Food and its harvest was something to rejoice and bond over; the dinner table a place to share communal wisdom, take sustenance after a hard day’s work, and refuel bodies in kinship with others.
Flash forward to today. Many of us have developed an adversarial relationship with food. Instead of taking pleasure in our meals, we agonize over what foods to avoid. We chart calories, shun grains with gluten, banish cheese. One can hardly turn on a news report without hearing of the newest edible edict, the new “rules” of nutrition.
In the process of trying to stay healthy, have we taken all the joy out of eating? Those who love to cook wonder if there is a way to regain an appreciation for what we put on the dinner table and reclaim the love-love relationship with food that is our birthright. After all, while we do need food to nourish our bodies, meals are also meant to be a many-faceted experience — a notion that has been sorely lost in some corners of today’s healthy living culture.
Eating with the fullest pleasure is one of the most profound way of celebrating our connection with the world as well as one another, says chef Pete Evans, host of the PBS series Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking. He believes that the enjoyment of food is a multi-layered experience that can be heightened by mood, setting and companionship. “Catching and growing my own food is definitely something that brings my culinary experience to a whole new level, and cooking outdoors in the sun is by far my ultimate kitchen,” he says. “We shot an [amazing] episode of Moveable Feast in beautiful rural Massachusetts with two culinary legends, Chris Schlesinger and Doc Willoughby, where we all went quahogging [pronounced KO-hog-ing, which means digging for clams at low tide]. We gathered a feast load and cooked up a remarkable spread together. I’ve been reliving it in my mind ever since.”
Vegetarian chef and food consultant Amy Chaplin says, “Our fast-paced lifestyles don't allow the time needed to [make that farm to table connection, to] shop for ingredients and cook healthy, delicious meals from scratch. We don't place enough value on growing and raising healthy sustainable food. Often, we would rather spend our dollars on luxury items, or have a factory or restaurant prepare our meals. With this we lose the simple joy of connecting to nature and each other through food.”
Chaplin, whose culinary philosophy was informed by growing up in rural Australia, eating whole foods meals lovingly made by vegetarian parents, says that she too finds harvesting her own food a profoundly meditative experience, one that that acknowledges our dependence upon our environment. “Living alongside an organic garden gave me great reverence for nature and the importance of organically grown produce,” she says. Whether you have a backyard plot, a small herb pot in a sunny window, or a fire-escape garden box, growing something you eat connects you to the natural life cycle that governs us all.
Shop the farmers' market
Besides a green thumb, there are other ways to connect your food source, and cultivate your taste buds. “I love taking clients on a tour of the farmers' market, purchasing the freshest organic vegetables from the people who grow them and bringing it all back to their kitchen to create a simple and outstanding meal,” Chaplin says. “The market and the produce always inspire people to cook; I think it’s because it brings us closer to nature and back to basics.” Plus it’s fun to discover fall’s first batch of apples and pears freshly picked that morning (and imagine ways to prepare them).
Slow down to savor your food
Chaplin also recommends slowing down and taking a more meditative approach to eating a meal, allowing yourself to release the day’s stress and engage your senses fully to appreciate what’s on your plate. Taking the time to enjoy our food’s beauty and taste, we can begin to savor the richness that comes from nourishing our spirit as well as our palates.
Create an experience, with music, mood lighting and good company
Equally important says Evans: Plan to enjoy meals with others. Eating simple, fresh food in a natural setting can be all it takes to create a restorative, and memorable, dining experience. By focusing on the event — the music, conversation, setting, company — the dining ritual becomes satisfying, and joyful. “I always recommend playing music while you prepare your meals,” says Evans. Creating a rich experience for body and soul “has a huge impact on your life and your family's lives too,” he adds. “Positive, stimulating conversation during a nutritious, delicious meal with family and friends is without a doubt” the most uplifting way to dine. “It all really just comes down to doing everything in life with love and without fear, and finding the beauty in every situation.”
For ALOHA: Elina Furman
Photo credit: Jody Horton/Gallery Stock
"Aloha" means "sharing the breath of life."
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