After reading two books by Michael Pollan, reading several articles by various authors from various sources and observing my own actions and impulses, I have come to the conclusion that the major missing nutrient in our Western diet is gratitude. We seek out antioxidants at the farmer’s market, buy extra milk for our kids and eat whole grain bread all in the name of health, but we fail to embrace food as a culture and the primary pillar which supports our lives.
It’s so American of us to be unconcerned with food because we have so much of it. Who cares about dinner? You could make double, or triple the recipe with a credit card and a grocery store. In a society with such a plethora of food (or foodlike substances), we get so caught up with living life that we forget what sustains life. We eat food because we are hungry. We aren’t going to run out. What’s there to worry about?
One of Pollan’s main points about the unhealthiness of the Western diet is our poor excuse for a food “culture.” We grab our food and eat on the go without stopping to ponder what exactly we are putting in our bodies. It only makes sense to a success-centered culture. Why should we slow down to enjoy a meal if there’s another one coming in five hours? We have much more important things to worry about than nurturing our bodies. It sometimes seems we believe our bodies are only temporary instruments for our actions. We couldn’t care less as long as it makes our stomach stop grumbling and tastes decent. Did I mention that it should be cheap?
Because our society is constantly on the go, we don’t spend as much time preparing food as we should. We don’t have a reason to be grateful for our meal because a sixteen-year-old with a license and a minimum wage job could pay for it after one hour of work. If we put more of ourselves into our food (instead of more food into ourselves), we might find that there is almost an art to feeding ourselves, that there is actually work involved, and we might come to appreciate and feel grateful for what we consume.
Growing an herb garden, family grocery shopping, dinnertime conversation, couples’ cooking classes, I don’t care what it takes, just find someway to connect yourself with food and with all the people involved. Enjoying food should be a primary stress reliever in lieu of typical Western snacking, meeting friends for dinner should take more than a half hour, scarfing food should be considered impolite again, and saying grace before the meal should be frequent and sincere. Whether you’re thanking a deity or simply reflecting on the work put into the food before you, it’s important to take a step back and remember why you are eating and who made the meal possible. The depth gratitude adds to a meal is a safeguard against relapsing to Happy Meals (whose backgrounds are less than happy) and is another dimension to life, one we’ve all but pushed aside, that calms, enriches, and nourishes not just our bodies, but our souls.