By Sasha Ayad
In the last few weeks you’ve probably been thinking more about food. During the holiday season, there are huge meals lurking around every corner, so in the new year we often resolve to eat in a different way, often, a "lighter" way.
We abandon The Food Network and turn to diet experts for help with nutrition. You might have even heard someone say that food is fuel. The argument goes like this: rather than food being a reward, comfort, or entertainment, food is simply nutrients and calories that fuel our movement. Our bodies are machines, and food is our fuel source.
At first this makes sense, right? Of course, it’s important to look at the biological and chemical reactions that take place in our bodies after we ingest a meal. But to reduce food to “fuel” is a narrow and mechanical way to think about something that has much deeper meaning. Even the highest performing athlete has a complex and dynamic relationship with food that goes way back to his or her childhood.
Treating food as fuel also sets us up for shame when we eat something that isn’t a good “fuel source.” Like any other extreme or dogmatic belief about nutrition, this can lead to compulsive binge eating when we “fall off the wagon” and experience guilt about something we ate. The binge-diet cycle completely derails our health goals and our sanity.
So how do we avoid this dangerous trap while still making the conscious effort to eat food that's good for us? For starters (pun intended), let’s stop ignoring all of the amazing ways food plays a role in our lives. Let’s stop demonizing and eroticizing food, and give it the respect it deserves.
Food is so much more than fuel:
1. Food connects us to memories. We all remember our favorite meals from childhood, or special things we ate on vacation. Whenever my grandmother makes Bisila, an Egyptian stew with peas and meat, it reminds me of a particular day of playing in the pool when I was 6 years old. I can be vividly transported to my childhood backyard in Montreal just by thinking about this dish!
2. Food elicits a visceral reaction. Our bodies respond to the sight, taste, texture, and smell of food. When you take a bite, your face immediately gives you away: you pull the fork slowly out of your mouth, and your eyes close gently - you linger in this savory moment of deliciousness. Food is pleasurable, it can be emotional, and that’s natural!
3. Food tells us a global history. Even for the most commonplace pantry item to reach our kitchens (mine is in Texas) it takes a long convoluted journey through time and space. Think of pepper, for example: over 4,000 years ago people on the Malabar coast of India had to discover it, figure out how to use it, and begin to trade it, for us to enjoy it here in the West.
4. Cooking connect us with our culture. Each country, each region, and even each family has a particular way to make common dishes. Rice is found all over the world, yet made in hundreds of ways. Persian rice, for example, is aromatic, savory, and sweet. It’s preparation is an intricate art form that has developed over thousands of years.
5. Cooking food enabled our development. Biological anthropologists believe that early humans were able to develop bigger brains by cooking their food and making it easier to digest. The fact that you are able to read, process, and understand this article today may be attributed to the cooking of our food.
6. Food is beautiful. Food is one of the only art forms accessible to everyone. While I am certainly no master chef, I can taste how different flavors harmonize together, make my dish look pretty, and experiment with beautiful recipes from home. And food is art that we EAT - what’s better than that?
7. Food is an artistic science. Even baking bread involves a very complex series of chemical and physical reactions. But the culinary style of molecular gastronomy takes food-science to a new level, using chemistry to make some of the most interesting foods around. Watch honey transform in to “caviar.”
8. Food is love. It’s the perfect minimalist gift. When you spend time working with your hands and engaging all of your senses to create a tasty dish for someone else, you show how much you care. Every Sunday, my boyfriend and I cook, and it’s my favorite way to spend time together.
Next time you see a food-is-fuel article, I hope you’ll consider some of these facts. When you appreciate all the different ways food is important, you can be less neurotic about it and truly enjoy what you eat.
Sasha is a minimalist who doesn't believe in rules. For the last year, she's taken a flexible approach in paring down every aspect of her life. She started pitching useless stuff, but couldn't stop at material possessions. She got rid of some toxic people from her past, and re-examined her strained relationship with food and exercise.
In her blog, love minimalist, she shares stories of her sometimes successful, often difficult, and always enriching journey to a simpler, better life.
Sasha is also a Licensed Professional Counselor and offers a nuanced perspective on minimalism and its impact on people’s emotional and psychological health. She explores how relationships, culture, and gender influence our pursuit of a simpler life, highlighting topics often overlooked in the simplicity blogosphere. Sasha believes we can all make room for the best things in life, offering practical advice and encouraging everyone to embrace a flexible approach to minimalism.