catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 12 :: 2005.06.17 — 2005.06.30


Down with diets

I know a lot of people who seem to hate food. Some seem to regret everything they eat, and cannot bring a fork to their lips without first commenting about how they shouldn?t do this, or how the food is laden with fat, or carbs, or something. Now, let me say from the outset that I am not advocating morbid obesity or encouraging people to support McDonald?s evil empire, rather, I?d like to suggest that when we resent every mouthful, we are not being thankful for our daily bread.

Other people I know hate food in a different way. It is an annoyance, something in their day that keeps them from work, or video games, or whatever. So they skip breakfast, grab a snack on the run midmorning, wolf down a fast food burger for lunch and zap a microwavable entr?e for dinner. To them food is simply fuel. Taste is unimportant if noticed at all. I?d like to suggest that when food is something in the way that we consume in minutes, in our car, in a hurry, we are also not being thankful for our daily bread.

So allow me, a deliriously happy, slightly overweight, middle-aged food lover, a couple of observations.

?I can?t believe we eat this well!?

I have been saying this at every meal I eat at home for the past couple of years. My family mocks me for it (with good reason) and yet I say it to remind myself that we in the twentieth century industrialized world eat like no one else in the history of the world has been able to.

History lesson: through most of history people have eaten that which can be cooked or grown close to home and that which is in season for the harvest. I live in Illinois, one of the plains states. Two hundred years ago, if I was lucky, I could expect bread at most meals, prairie chicken or domesticated fowl maybe once every couple weeks and other game when it could be caught. In the fall I could get really excited for a month or so about veggies grown in my own garden, and in the winter I would eat whatever could be preserved?smoked meat, dried fruits, vegetables in the root cellar. I would drink water and sometimes milk. Variety and choice would not be part of my thinking when it came to food.

As I write this, it is almost dinner time on a Saturday. For dinner we are having beef burritos, Spanish rice, salad with romaine lettuce, strawberries, onions, and cashews with poppy seed dressing, choice of milk, water, lemonade or soft drink, and blueberry buckle for dessert. In this part of the world, in early June, only the beef and maybe a crude flour tortilla with milk to drink would be possible without refrigeration, trucking, and so on. And when you consider that last night we had grilled pork chops, Thursday we had taco meatballs, Wednesday was chicken and mashed potatoes, Tuesday was baked sub sandwiches and Monday was hamburgers?all of them with accompanying out-of-season fruits and vegetables?consider all that and you realize that an average joe in our society eats better then Alexander the Great could have ever dreamed of eating.

If we were eating black bread and thin vegetable stew every day for the rest of our lives, it would nourish us, and taste good, and would be reason enough to thank God with our whole hearts. Instead, however, we eat miraculous food every day. We need to pause before the meal, and maybe learn to pause before every bite to say thank you to the God that made the food.

The best meal I ever ate

The best meal I ever ate was on a camping trip. We had just finished a long hike that featured a surprise rainstorm that hit at about the halfway point. We (a church group of about twenty) were cold and wet. Some of us held a tarp over the grill. Some of us washed potatoes and wrapped them in aluminum foil. Some of us grilled. Some made pitcher after pitcher of instant lemonade. Some cut up the loaves of French bread. Others of us rigged some tarps over the picnic tables and set out paper plates and plasticware.

In the end, half the chicken and a third of the baked potatoes were burned. The margarine had mosquitoes in it. The bread was several days old. The lemonade was a bit watered down. And yet, even now I shiver at how good it all tasted. It helped that I was hungry, that I had worked up an appetite and that I was cold and the food was hot. It made even more of a difference that all we hungry people prepared the food together. I believe I savored each bite and I was genuinely thankful for it.

One of the biggest problems with fast food, it seems to me, is that we usually consume it after riding in the car some distance, or working at a desk all day or something like that. The only work we do to get our squishy burger and runny shake is to plunk down our money. Even going home and boiling up a hot dog would involve more sweat equity.

So find the time, make oatmeal porridge for breakfast, lentil stew for lunch, Indonesian rice for dinner, pumpkin pie for dessert, and be thankful for the moment in time to make it, the expertise, and the ingredients. Then enjoy it for all you are worth.

In college, I think I got it wrong

I remember arguing passionately with my roommates once, that the company you are with when you eat a meal has no effect on the taste of the food. I now believe I was wrong about that. A long leisurely meal with friends you haven?t seen for a while or a home-cooked meal with a full group of family with whom you like spending time somehow makes the food taste a world better than the same food eaten alone.

Think for a second about the best meals of your life. I bet they involved warmth and laughter and a feeling of comfort. And I bet they weren?t eaten alone. They may have been in a restaurant, or they may have been at home, but I can virtually guarantee that someone else was there with you.

Think back to that most wonderful meal of your life. I can also virtually guarantee that you didn?t spend the whole time discussing calories and trans-fats. I am not trying to imply that you shouldn?t eat well and make good dietary choices?just that, at a celebratory feast with friends, you should probably set all that aside as much as you can. Maybe we ought to approach food choices not so much in terms of what not to eat, but rather in terms of what to eat. Eat wonderful fruits and leafy vegetables. Eat good meat and drink a good glass of wine (in moderation and if that is what you are into). Enjoy good whole grain bread. Have a small dessert. Eat what you eat and enjoy what you eat. When you are finished, be thankful for those we eat with, and for that we talk about as we eat, as well as what we eat.

Give thanks

Like all the rest of God?s commands, when he reminds us to be thankful for what we have, God isn?t requiring our praise for his own good?to boost his ego or something. Rather, giving thanks for our food is good for us. It reminds us to appreciate what we have, to slow down, to have joy in those around us. If we eat thankfully, we will eat joyfully and love our food.

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