I know – the title’s a little clumsy. Eating well is what it should be. And eating well – following all-natural diets, supporting farmers markets, hating corn-syrup, etc – is a lot of what I’ll be writing about. The thing is, “eating well” has become a pretty loaded term lately, and I’m not sure I’m ready for the baggage.
Dietarily speaking, the benefits of eating well are sort of a no-brainer. Food fuels your body; the better fuel you get, the better your body runs; therefore, you should eat good food. Simple, right? The problem is good food isn’t always easy to come by. In fact, thanks to billions in marketing dollars, our culture has been erected on a foundation of junk food. So many of my fondest childhood memories – that first bite of Halloween candy, drinking a slurpee on a summer day – are centered around food and corporations that are literally poisoning the nation. Does that mean that, to eat well, I have to disavow society and forget my past?
But there’s more, because eating well doesn’t just mean eating nutritiously, it means eating locally. The truly conscious have been waking up to the fact that your diet doesn’t just affect you. It affects your community by pumping money into local businesses. It affects your environment by supporting farmers and producers with earth-friendly practices. It even affects your government – as Robert Kenner, the man behind Food Inc., puts it, we can vote three times a day. Every meal is an opportunity to either support the status quo – resoundingly negative, in the case of American food trends – or forge a new, healthier path. With each bite we take, the futures of our communities, our nation, and even our planet hang in the balance.
Yikes. Don’t get me wrong – these issues (health, sustainability, etc.) are critical and certainly deserve more pause than this brief listing. It’s just that weighing them all when you’re deciding what to have for lunch seems like an awful lot of pressure. That’s my problem with eating well: it allows larger-than-life concepts to get in the way of one of life’s simplest pleasures. Eating.
To me, the greatest benefit of a good meal isn’t its effect on your body or your surroundings, but your mind. There is a joy of experience with food that is so closely connected to how we perceive our world. It reunites us with people we care about, reminds us of our surroundings, and stimulates our senses. It forces us to slow down – to stop moving three times a day and just take everything in. The fact that this experiential element of eating is often ignored is unfortunate, and represents what I think is the worst symptom of our biggie-sized society. If eating exists only as a remedy for hunger, the stomach is full but the mind stays empty. Food should fuel the body and support the community, but only if it nourishes the spirit first.
When I was a kid housing Snickers bars on Halloween I definitely wasn’t eating well. And it doesn’t matter how healthy a summer salad may be, unless the produce is local, it wouldn’t really be eating well either. But that’s okay. Eating nutritious and socially responsible food is important to me, but I don’t want to turn my back on culture to do it. Truly experiencing food is what I’m after, and if that calls for settling for imperfection here and there, bring it on. In a perfect world, we’d all grow turnips in our backyards and eat them like candy. In a perfect world, our farmers would tell us what to eat, not our televisions. In a perfect world we’d all be eating well.
Truthfully, I’m happy with eating goodly.