The Pleasure of Eating

Okay, okay – I know I promised to do another controversial post on GMO’s, but let me interrupt that string with some thoughts that have hit me as I’ve delved deeply into researching local food, sustainability, and food solutions.

Chopped bittersweet chocolate for melting

While my roommates were studying hard for exams and writing papers during the first part of dead week, I had a couple of nights of relief before my only final. So I picked up my Bon Appétit magazine and went grocery shopping. I came home with chickpeas, tomatoes, eggs, peppers and feta cheese and I prepared shakshuka, an Israeli dish characterized by poached eggs and chickpeas in a tomato sauce. My roommates said it was the best dish I’d ever made. I attribute most of their praise to their taste buds, deadened by several straight weeks of Spaghetti-O’s and miniature corn dogs, but the meal was pretty good….

After cooking, I began thinking of the Food Studies Project and other academically-focused food groups. It came to my attention that we often get so invested in the political, cultural, and ethical aspects of food, that we forget to really sit down and taste what we are eating and savor the food that nourishes and energizes our bodies. When was the last time you felt the enjoyment of cooking your own food and eating the product of your labor? When did you eat something that you enjoyed simply for the pleasure of enjoying it?

I’ll be the first to admit that food is an integral component of culture, politics, and economics. There are serious questions to be asked and answered. Are GM foods harming human beings? What is industrial agriculture doing to the environment? How do we feed the 7 billion humans that inhabit our earth?

But what’s the point of attempting to answer these questions if the food itself has become uninspiring? If eating loses its appeal because it has been so complicated by the modern discourse surrounding food issues, why bother? When we begin to think of food merely as a means to some certain political end or as the number of calories it takes to lose (or gain) a pound, we destroy an important aspect of food. The pleasure humans are afforded by the cooking, baking, sautéing, whipping, buying, slicing, frying, and presenting of food is lost. 

Homemade Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache

As the semester winds downs and you find yourself with a little more free time (hopefully!), let me leave you with some homework.

Plan a meal one night. Try something you’ve never eaten before, or dig out your favorite tried-and-true comfort food recipe. Buy groceries. At the farmer’s market, at H-E-B, at Whole Foods. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive (but it can be). Cook the food at home. Do it alone, or with a friend. Both are rewarding. Spend hours in the kitchen with reductions, Escoffier-style sauces, and elaborate presentations, or microwave your vegetables (the healthiest method of preparing veggies, according to Harold Mcgee) and quickly sear a cut of your favorite fish in olive oil.

For those of you with kitchen-phobia, treat yourself to dinner at that place you always wanted to try, but haven’t gotten around to it. Venture in to a restaurant that makes you uncomfortable, or cozy up into a booth at the beloved Kirbey Lane for a late-night stack of pancakes.

Now, sit down with yourself, your roommate, your friends, and – this is important – don’t talk about food, except for the finished meal in front of you. Don’t plug the local farm where you bought your kale, and let your defense of veganism escape you for a few hours. Eat slowly, and really savor. Rediscover your taste buds. You might find that a new dish excites your palate or that an old recipe has more depth than you gave it credit for. You also might find that cow tongue is just not your thing, or that same old recipe that you used to love is actually pretty bland and one-dimensional. The important thing is that you’re tasting.

Minced veggies for a Thanksgiving stuffing

Then, when you’re done eating, sleep on the experience. Put off those important food issues that you’re studying until tomorrow when your body will be renewed and your mind, open. Allow the experience to influence your work. Before you make an ethical, political, economic, or cultural recommendation, remember how food affected you and how it could affect the lives of others.

If you decide to shoulder this extra “homework” during the holidays, here are a list of local-area food blogs to get you started:

Edible Aria
Lisa is Cooking 
Dining in Austin
Mary Makes Dinner 
Austin Gastronomist

I’d love to hear about it if you decide to make a night out of eating… Comment or email me with your experiences and what you learned (if anything). Or just leave me with a recipe to try in my own kitchen, or a restaurant that I have to try.

Happy Holidays!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Deirdre says:

    Well said, Brittany!

  2. Andrea says:

    Great post, Brittany! It’s always good to be reminded of the importance of actually tasting our food! So often we get into the rush of, like you said, losing or (gaining–thanks for adding that one!) weight that we forget to savor the experience. Thanks for the permission to do whatever it takes to truly enjoy a mean, whether it’s moving outside of our comfort zones, or staying with that favorite recipe!

  3. Jackie says:

    The concept of mindful eating, truly savoring every bite and giving yourself that time to enjoy the food instead of think about everything else in the world makes me nostalgic for the time when I didn’t have all these words flying through my head about the food I was eating. I think that is why I became so adamant about only eating local and now mostly just sustainably raised food, so I could start to not worry about what I was eating. Along the way I forgot to enjoy every meal, no matter when it is. Yesterday I had toast with hummus as I walked and ended thinking where did my toast go? Today I am going to try to find something new that I love about my meal during every bite. Thank you for reminding me the joy of a simple bite, this was a great post!

  4. Asiago says:

    I have always been a big believer of promoting us to change “how” eat, more than telling us “what” to eat. You really learn the importance of enjoying and being thankful for food travelling and experiencing how other cultures’ eat and treat their food.

    I agree whole heartedly that people should enjoy and find pleasure in their food. I think most people do… even including your roommates with their “Spaghetti-O’s and miniature corn dogs”

    Maybe we should ask them “why” they like to eat those things?
    For example, after all my food studies telling me to hate McDonalds, I still love McNuggets! Those crispy little “all white meat” nuggets bring me so much pleasure when I dunk their warmth into that sweet sauce (I always get honey) and take that first bite into that boot shaped chicken concoction. There are a lot of other reasons I am sure, why I love those additive McNuggets!

    If they are bad for my health (and possible my palate), do I give them up? Or maybe I can change “how” I go about eating them and come to awareness “why” I enjoy them.

    Our blog gets cooler every post! Good Job Brittany!

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