Tag Archive: enjoy

Making Eating Meaningful

Appreciating Each Bite

 

I love eating cake. I love eating cookies. I love pizza and sweet potato fries too. Lest you be concerned that this personal trainer has totally lost his mind, I’ll also admit that I love eating apples and strawberries, grilled chicken, fresh salad, and guacamole. Why do I list some of the many foods I enjoy? Two reasons: 1) to simply make the point that being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean restricting what you eat, including those foods you love to eat but that you may view as “bad” for you; and 2) now you know my preferences if ever you were to extend me a Shabbat lunch invitation.

 

In truth, there is another reason why I’m talking about food. Last issue we discussed the importance of making exercise meaningful. We don’t just “go through the motions” of getting a decent sweat on; we value our health for what it is – a continual gift from Hashem that allows us to serve Him with all the potential with which we’ve been blessed. The other side of the health coin, of course, is adequate nutrition. If we understand that keeping fit strengthens the body that houses our precious neshama, so too should we similarly value and contemplate what goes into our mouths.

 

However, I don’t want to talk about what we should eat, when we should eat, or how much we should eat; these subjects will be examined in future articles. Today I’d like to discuss HOW we should eat.

 

“Wait a minute, Chemmie, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one… something about putting the food into my mouth, right?” Yes, that’s true, but that’s only a superficial view of the big picture. As frum Jews, if exercise is so much more than repetitive movements with weights, or moving around until you keel over in a puddle of your own perspiration, then eating must also denote far more than simply shoving food into your mouth.

 

Of course, we recite a bracha before we consume anything, but what goes through your mind at that moment? Perhaps you focus on the words of the blessing? Perhaps you imagine how good the food will taste? Perhaps you consider how expensive the food was to purchase, or the last time you ate such a food? As you eat the food, though, can you truly admit that the experience is meaningful to you spiritually?

 

I suggest deliberating upon the following questions next time you put anything in your mouth:

 

1)    Where on the planet does this food/drink come from? How many steps in the production process did it take for the food/drink to get from where it originated to where it now sits in front of you? In this age of worldwide connectedness, walking into your local grocery can be quite a globetrotting experience. In addition to home-grown produce, you’re just as likely to find foods from numerous countries throughout the world. Wandering around Pathmark recently I noted honeydew melons from Honduras, pineapples from Costa Rica, tomatoes from Mexico, peaches from Chile, mangoes from Peru, and bananas from Guatemala, and that was just in the fruit and vegetable section! Take a moment to ponder what it took for that produce to end up in your shopping basket; envision the country of origin, the climate, the people, the language, the amazing biodiversity of this remarkable planet. Someone had to grow it, someone had to pick it, someone had to package it, transport it, unpack it, and display it. Quality control, administrative assistants, mechanics, drivers… the list goes on and on, all so you can enjoy that food for mere pennies. Even growing your own fruit or vegetables from your backyard makes you appreciate where our food comes from. Here in the States, as in many affluent countries throughout the developed world, we are truly blessed beyond our imagination.

 

2)    How many ingredients are included in this food? Not that I necessarily condone factory-produced foods, but one has to marvel at the scientific wizardry that goes into extended shelf lives and synthetic flavor explosions. Perhaps more appropriately, even foods prepared at home can be constructed with both finesse and creativity. Each individual component of a dish is truly a miracle; but, when orchestrated as one, they can cumulatively be awe-inspiring.

 

3)    How was the food prepared? How many separate steps went into the preparation of that meal you’re joyfully eating? Did the onions have to be sautéed first? Did the vegetables have to be sliced a certain way? Did the blended ingredients have to reach just the right consistency for the chemistry to work? Did the pasta need to be cooked for just the right amount of time at just the right temperature to be neither too hard nor too soft? Cooking is both an art and a science; one variable out of place, and the recipe might disintegrate.

 

4)    How long did it take to prepare the food and who prepared it? One might ask whether the food was prepared with a pan or a wok, a grater or a knife, an oven or a broiler. But perhaps a more meaningful question might be whether the food was prepared with love. Who prepared the food for you? Was she tired after having looked after the kids since they came home from school, and yet still somehow found the time and energy to rustle you up a nutritious home-cooked meal? Did he go to the store to pick up those ingredients for you, even though he was tired after working all day in the office and then learning for an hour or two at night? Never forget your chef. Never forget your delivery service.

 

5)    What physical coordination is required to navigate that food into your mouth? How many bodily processes need to occur to process that food correctly and give your body what it needs to survive? What bodily processes occur that allow you to gain pleasure from eating the food? One would need a library of books to adequately give the human body its due. Rambam commented how, to truly know the Artist, you must study His creations. This is true for every discipline of science. Each of us is a world unto ourselves. Each a breathtakingly complex organism, capable of feeding ourselves and separating the nutrients from the waste. We know when we’re hungry, we know when we’re full – some of us are even in control of our nourishment urges. If that wasn’t enough, Hashem beneficently gives us the ability to enjoy our food; we experience it with so many senses, our eyes and nose first, then our lips, our tongue, teeth, throat, and stomach. Each sense, a blessing; each facet of the food – its color, its flavor, its texture, and its aroma, all remarkable gifts.

 

Perhaps this explains how the righteous eats to satisfy his soul (Proverbs 13:25). Every bite should bring you closer towards Hashem. Every meal, every bracha, every ingredient that touches your tongue should fill your essence with a love for Hashem. True, we shouldn’t live to eat… but nor should we eat to live. Instead, we should eat to love; to love our own bodies, and to love a generous and merciful God who gives us the ability to worship Him in such a tasty and nutritious way on a daily basis.