Food, diet and eating habits are part of a bigger picture that includes cultural contexts of eating that, in part, inform our behaviours. In order to have a sustainably healthy and enjoyable diet the context of eating should also be taken into consideration. Food should give us pleasure, it’s biological, we can’t (and shouldn’t) deny it, but how we eat our food and who with plays a role in this. In this finale of the 7 principles of sustainable eating I look at what, from my point of view, is one of the most important aspects of food – pleasure.
The ritual of food
Daily rituals can be created that allow us to integrate into our hectic lives moments of peace where we can truly connect with our food and with mind and body enjoy every bite. Why is this necessary you might ask? It’s been shown that people who have a positive relationship with food and truly enjoy eating with zero guilt or shame may have a more nutritious, varied diet and partake in less body shaming and food worry.
Historically there are many cultures that have integrated this into their eating experiences. Looking at the so-called ‘Blue Zones’ in the World where people seemingly live much longer than the global averages demonstrates this. Okinawa in Japan is one such Blue Zone where women live longer than any women in the World. Although there is no one cause of this and is likely to be the result of a combination of factors – time spent outdoors, strong sense of community, nutritious food, sense of purpose etc – they have a strong focus on making food pleasurable. As part of their dietary guidelines the message of “make all activity pertaining to food and eating pleasurable ones” is placed as a priority.
This is becoming more pronounced in dietary guidelines with many countries now recognising this in their official guidelines. One recent revision released in 2014 is more famous than the others, this being the ‘Ten Steps to Healthy Diets’ by the Brazilian Government. These new guidelines placed a strong emphasis on eating environment, two of the ten steps being:
“Step 5 – Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company”
“Step 8 – Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life”
These two very useful and simple points can help us to place food as a central pillar in our daily lives and help us build a better relationship with it, with ourselves and with others. Food has long been the focus of cultural and ceremonial traditions: birthday cakes, Christmas dinner, half-time pies and the ritual of the summer barbecue to name a few!
How to make food and dining sacred
Protecting our time with food and making eating occasions special is not an easy feat in our hectic, time-poor lives. Here I’ve pulled together a few simple tweaks that might just (even on an unconscious level) help promote that feeling of connection and pleasure.
- Think about the environment you eat in – do you often eat out of plastic containers? Do you eat with disposable cutlery? Do you eat sat on the sofa?
Make it special – there are many ways to make the places you eat more welcoming. Try eating off of plates more, collect a small set of matching cutlery, eat sat around a table with loved ones, heck even whack some candles on it. Get creative and feel the difference.
- Think about the way you prepare food – do you regularly order in food? Do you go for the easiest to prepare meals? When was the last time you chopped an onion or carrot or cut a slice off a loaf of bread?
Cook more – this can be such a great way to really connect with your food. Discover the smells, textures, feel and taste of each ingredient by itself and get to know how they meld together in the finished meal. Pack your own lunches, prep ingredients the night before, make use of extra time at the weekends and especially of your freezer if you have one.
- Think about who you eat with – do you prefer to share food with others? Do you wish you had more alone time with your food to really focus on it? Are there others who you know would appreciate a shared meal?
Work out who’s right for you at the right time – whether that’s you, yourself and I or a table of other people, decide who you want to share your precious meals with. Conversation can help slow how fast you eat and it can even help you get more out of the food by discussing the meal.
- Think about what’s around you while you eat – do you often eat while watching TV, reading emails, flicking through social media or reading a book?
Try to eat mindfully – clear the space, physically remove any distractions e.g. phones, laptops, papers, books, pens anything that might force your mind away from food. Turn off the TV and your phone and if possible eat in a completely different room. For more on mindful eating check out our previous blog.
Making food and meal times a priority can be helpful in nurturing a healthy relationship with food. Dedicating just one night a week where food and people are the focus can be so enriching.
One exercise to try is to write down your absolute ideal eating environment and use that as the gold standard to strive for whenever possible. Think about where you are, what you’re eating, who you’re eating with, what you’re eating off. Use this as the ‘eating ideal’ to strive for; although it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve every component of this every meal, just one or two can make a difference.
And remember, we eat around 1100 meals a year so there’s plenty of chances to get it right.
“It is a gift of evolution that we so profoundly enjoy something we have to do every day, and we should celebrate this as often as we can” – Angry Chef (on eating)
For the keen readers and evidence checkers amongst you:
Dan Buettner. The Blue Zones Solution.
FAO. Brazilian Dietary Guidelines. Available at: http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-dietary-guidelines/regions/brazil/en/
Miyagi et al. (2003). Longevity and diet in Okinawa, Japan: the past, present and future. DOI: 10.1177/101053950301500S03
The Guardian (2016). No diet, no detox: how to relearn the art of eating. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/05/diet-detox-art-healthy-eating