I was reflecting last Friday while having a late lunch with my colleagues in Guadalajara that eating has become entertainment in our culture. I considered the effects of viewing food as entertainment rather than fuel for our body, and the changes I have undergone in the past couple years regarding my own eating.
There is a social component to food in most cultures. We eat together as a sign of belonging, and invite others to eat with us or “go for a coffee” (especially in Latino culture) as a chance to connect. When I visited Jordan many years ago, I was told that to refuse food offered in someone’s home was to insult them, and so I felt an obligation to eat something each time we visited.
It reminded me of the pressure I felt to clean my plate as I was growing up. I now can leave food on my plate when I am no longer hungry, and I have let go of the guilt of “wasting” that food. I think it was Martha Beck that pointed out that food is wasted whether we “throw it on” the body or throw it away when we are not hungry. But the former will lead to further suffering by causing unnecessary and unhealthy weight gain.
When we go to fancy restaurants, we go not only for the quality of the food, we go for the theater, for the presentation. I recalled a restaurant in Miami where I went with colleagues called Barton G, where the food was presented in a fun, artful and surprising ways. There were Sumurai swords sticking out of the dishes, or there was a “treasure chest” filled with gold doubloons, ice cream, chocolates, etc.
We went to that place twice, in fact. The first time, I was amazed and delighted by all of the food creations, and I really did not think too much about the taste of the food. The second time, when I was looking to do something food & engaging with the team, I also enjoyed the presentation. But I noticed the food was not actually that good. The fish was a little dry, and the vegetables were overcooked. The team enjoyed the theater of it, but I had seen through the veneer.
I realize when I am on vacation part of the delight is trying out new restaurants, and maybe trying food I have never eaten. Or the joy the Mexicanos had in talking about what is truly “picante” or spicy and the different regions of the country where people tolerate the heat more than others. There was pride in being able to eat spicy food, in expressing enjoyment of their favorite cuisines in dishes.
While I partake in that joy at times, I also recognize that we create situations where there is over-desire for food. Any time we eat more than our bodies need for fuel, or we feel pressured to try a dessert just because everyone else is eating it, we dishonor our own bodies to make others happy. It is interesting to note that we never seem pick on people who are shoveling down every bit of food they can. We instead pressure others to just have a bite, or not to spoil the fun by abstaining.
Just writing about this reminds me of all the times I have been uncomfortably persuaded to do this, and how hard it was to resist their persuasion. Whether it was for wine or a piece of dessert, at the time when I was refraining from these items, I later realized it was not about me. In my own mind, I had a story that I was insulting them by turning it down. But they could choose to interpret my behavior in whatever way they wanted, and that was not my responsibility to manage.
But the powerful realization that wine and sugary desserts were actually hurting my well-being, robbing me of sleep and causing me to gain weight stood in contrast to their persuasion. In honoring myself and my body’s own needs, I could still enjoy the meal with them, and focus on the interactions with people, and letting the food be fuel, not the entertainment. I still struggle to let go of the feeling of wanting to fit in, and not wanting to be “too different” from these colleagues.
It gets easier though, this act of honoring our own needs and realizing in the long run that if I do not care for myself, these relationships will not have integrity anyway. By doing things that I do not want to do in an effort to “make others comfortable” I deny what I know to be true. Also, getting in touch and accepting my own discomfort at not always fitting in, and being okay with that feeling, has been incredibly freeing as well. It goes totally against our culture of eating as entertainment. And I am all right with that.
What are your experiences with food and eating as entertainment? What strategies have you used to honor your own needs and desires, while in the face of pressure? I am curious to know.