Are we eating or feeding? Coming to the table is not only about filling the stomach.
Over the past few weeks, I have been in Chile and been able to enjoy the culinary art of the country. I have consumed different types of fish, a corn type of casserole called pastel de choclo, empanadas and chorrillana, consisting of a heaping plate of French fries with onion, grilled beef and sausage.
I have also become accustomed to different meal times. Here, breakfast is a simple mid-morning sandwich of bread, cheese and ham. Lunch is much later than when I usually eat and is a large meal where families and friends gather to eat together and discuss the day before going back to work.
Around five, some people take a little coffee or tea break and may consume a small pastry. Dinner is usually around 9 and is only a simple sandwich or empanada. Sometimes people do consume a more substantial dinner, especially on the weekends but again the dinner would start around 9.
Here in Chile quick meals are not as common as in the U.S. It seems many Chileans eat lunch in community with others and slowly. Also, their snack and dinner times are not consumed alone but in the company of family and/or friends and is intentional.
A few years ago, I interviewed Hispanics residing in the U.S. about their current eating habits and asked how they had changed since migrating. One of the major themes from the interviewees was their perception of meal times in the states.
Many interviewees indicated they felt lonely during meal times for they were not used to eating alone. For example, one interviewee worked in a business office setting and said he would take his hour for lunch. He would go into the lunch room but was often alone and felt feelings of depression while eating. He said this would never happen in his home country of Colombia.
Other interviewees couldn’t believe people in the U.S. eat in their car during their commute to work and felt food was always consumed on the go and not enjoyed.
I think as Americans sometimes our relationship with food disregards these elements that can happen around it, such as social connection and harmony. We often seem to be more focused on the nutrients or what is “good” or “bad” about a food. For example, I am often asked questions from people like: “Is it bad to eat after six or seven at night?” or “Is it best to eat six small meals a day or three large ones?”
Although there is research looking at how such habits effect metabolism, I wonder if eating not to just “feed” or fill our stomachs, but actually seeing meal times as moments to connect with others and actually taste and enjoy food is just as if not more important than these other issues? For instance, studies do show when families eat meals together the meals are usually healthier.
So how do we do this in our culture and society? We put so much emphasis on convenience and time efficiency. How do we make a societal shift back to supporting a slow food culture? We are so caught up talking about what foods are healthy, when should or should we not eat, and what diet works. However, maybe our focus should really just be on slowing down, enjoying food and sharing it with others. I know easier said than done in the culture in which we live.
As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible “Eat, drink and enjoy!”The rest is foolishness.
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