Americans Should Stop Confusing Food With Entertainment!
(Or, should they?)
By Mike Avery
February 23, 2009
It's funny how different things come together to inspire one. Mary Fisher, an English friend, wrote in the gone, and lamented, Baking Fun mailing list that, "Breakfast is An Occasion in England. For most people it means a cooked breakfast: fried eggs, bacon and tomatoes. Some people add sausages, mushrooms, beans, hash brownies, fried bread and whatever other messes they can think of." I don't think she meant "messes" in a derogatory fashion, but more like a Southerner might say, "I'm gonna cook me up a mess of eggs!"
A few hours later I was at a garage reading an ancient copy of Newsweek while the staff changed my car's oil. In an earlier issue, Newsweek had run an article about the obesity epidemic in America. At this point about 2/3 of Americans are overweight or beyond. (Disclaimer - I'm one of them, but I am slowly making less of myself. I got derailed in the move and in my new job, but I'm back on track.) Someone wrote in to the magazine opining "The real problem is Americans confuse food with entertainment!"
I had two epiphanies. One was that I was pretty certain whose table I'd prefer to share. The other was, "Sorry, but I beg to differ."
I am convinced that far too many people in the USA rarely enjoy food at all. They'll drive through McDonald's and get a double double cheese++ burger (740 calories) with large fries (500 calories), a baked hot apple pie (250 calories) and a large chocolate triple thick chocolate shake (1160 calories) (for a grand total of 2650 calories) and have two reactions. "I'd really like something to eat" and "I don't know why I can't lose weight!"
I once prepared a classic Macaroni and Cheese for a church potluck. Home made noodles, home made sharp cheddar cheese sauce, baked in the oven, browned cheese on top, it was a pure delight. And the most common reaction was, "What is it?" People are so used to the yellow stuff that comes out of a box, they didn't even recognize the real thing. Far too often, people don't even recognize good food. But, I digress.
Because so much food is totally devoid of taste and satisfaction, people eat more, looking for some elusive satisfaction. I want *MORE*. Not because I'm hungry, not really, but because something is still missing. It seems that the fast food joints make sure - somehow - that their food won't satisfy.
People eat for taste. And when they don't get it, they eat more. And more and more. In reading my early musings on this topic, Mary commented that she'd had a brain tumor that greatly diminished her sense of smell and taste, and until it was removed she overate because she was hunting for taste. She - to coin a phrase - hungered for it.
I think to no small extent that people should embrace food as entertainment. There is joy in preparing good food. There is love in sharing it. And that love is felt by both the cook and those who enjoy the food. Yes, food IS entertaining. Sublimely so. And we should embrace that. Deeply. Fervently. Religiously. We should cherish our food, celebrate our food, and celebrate the sources of our food - the cooks, the bakers, the millers, the farmers, the ranchers, the hunters, the plants and the animals that made our meals possible. The plains Indians are said to have apologized to the spirit of the buffalo they killed, explaining to it that they needed to feed their family, and that to honor the buffalo they would cherish and use every scrap of the animal.
But we should also remember that not every meal has to be the Indianapolis 500, not every meal has to be the Superbowl, not every meal has to be Janet Jackson having her top ripped off (now THAT'S entertainment!), not every meal has to be The Three Tenors singing their greatest arias. There is great entertainment and joy in simpler things, in watching one's child take his first steps. Simple pleasures are no less deep!
There is entertainment in a well made pot of coffee or tea - and why would one make less than a good pot of coffee or tea? It's no harder to make a good pot than a bad one! There is entertainment in a simple sugar cookie. There is entertainment in a simple container of flying fish roe. (I got a few questions on that one. Flying fish roe, or eggs, are used in some sushi. Some roe are flavored with wasabi or mint, others are unflavored. It's a lovely mild caviar, and at around $20 a pound in oriental markets, it's also a great buy. Omelette's with some caviar in them or on them are a true delight.)
Whether you believe in God, evolution or some mix of the two, we are clearly intended, designed or evolved to truly enjoy food. It's our birthright. Mary chimed in, "Our birthright begins at birth - the sheer pleasure and satisfaction of a baby at the breast can't be duplicated with a bottle - nor of course the delight and satisfaction of the mother."
When one patronizes fast food joints, one loses sight of entertainment altogether and instead views food as fuel. Simple fuel. Not very appetizing or uplifting fuel.
Is it any wonder that one of my parent's neighbors is well on his way to weighing 600 pounds? Is it a coincidence that my parents front yard seems to be strewn with fast food wrappers?
I think not.
Still, when I reflect on the cultures where food is eaten reverently, among others, the French, the Italians, the Japanese, I see that obesity is far less a problem than it is in the United States. Not absent, but significantly less than in the United States.
For me, the take home message is probably, enjoy your food, be entertained by your food. And once you've enjoyed enough, STOP EATING!