By Randi Ragan
Women. Food. Dieting. Incendiary words, those.
What is it about female eating habits in our culture that is so loaded and makes us all so obsessive? Why, as sensible, enlightened women reading a publication such as this, are so many of us still caught in such an unsettled place with our relationship to food?
On a broader scale, how can there be so many people reading, writing, talking, blogging, and making films about: our changing relationship to the old paradigm of food procurement (factory farms vs. farmers’ markets, “Food, Inc.”, Fast Food Nation, etc), cooking and dining (Food Network, celebrity chefs, restaurant review websites), dissecting what the CEO of Whole Foods says in the national health care debate, while at the same time, still see exploding numbers of obesity people (especially children) AND eating related problems still at huge numbers among young girls and women??
It’s all a bit crazy making when we try to consider what food and eating means in our culture right now, and what parts we play as women, in this maelstrom of often contradictory information and advice.
As far back as the late 1700’s, people were starting to think about how food choices affected a person’s life, how a person’s life affected her food choices, and how the culture one lived in, impacted both. The 18th century French epicure and gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin famously said, “Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are.”
Food is one of our most elemental comfort factors. It incites and engages all our senses. It plugs us into what it means to experience being a human, living in a human body. But because we need it to also survive, the wires get very crossed in our efforts to satisfy both needs.
In other words, if we are never involved in at least some aspect of the growing, procuring, or preparing of our food on a regular basis, how are we ever going to come into harmony with what we are putting into our bodies? If we never understand what factory farming is doing to our American diet, if we’ve never experienced the simple pleasure of eating something we grew ourselves, if we’ve never learned the nutritional value of the foods we eat and the results they have on our physiological and emotional well being, if we have never made a meal from scratch and served it to people we love, then how could our relationship to food NOT be a little skewed?
From Thich Nhat Hanh,
Buddhist teacher and peace activist:
When you practice mindful eating, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.
Zen cooking means:a
cooking as a personal spiritual act personally selecting foods recycling leftovers and waste respect for and hospitality toward guests an absolutely clean kitchen use of the freshest seasonal ingredients the ability to cook anywhere in the world with whatever is on hand being equally capable of cooking frugally and extravagantly using food to enhance health
— Edward Espe Brown, Preface to Zen and the Art of Modern Eastern Cooking by Deng Ming-Dao
Another approach to conscious, healthy eating, is to thoroughly research and learn how you can eat certain foods, prepared in a certain way, for beauty benefits.
We can not only feel healthier and more vital, but reap a fantastic side effect and truly look better for it. Dark circles and puffiness under the eyes are diminished, breakouts and blemishes are banished, hair becomes shinier, skin begins to tighten, glow, and achieve a wonderful color, and most of all, our weight begins to settle into a natural place. When our internal organs and systems are all being optimally fed and kept clean of toxins, then excess poundage and water retention is released. Our bodies’ own wisdom begins to regulate our weight effortlessly.
Kat James discusses this in her wonderful book , The Truth About Beauty: Transform Your Looks And Your Life From The Inside Out. She stresses that by failing to link our looks with our food choices, we miss out on the opportunity to truly heal our beauty from the inside. But as we move toward a state of healing and thriving with our eating, we notice our bodies becoming more sensitive to the old, more toxic, choices.
“It’s not that your body is less tolerant; rather, it is improving its communication with you,” James states.
For example, she points out that your face can de-puff noticeably within as little as one day after weaning off blood sugar-spiking foods. You can mitigate your under eye circles better when you notice that they come from sulfites in wine or sweets. Your knowledge and sensitivity to your food choices is your best ally in your efforts to honor your innate beauty.
Here’s another not so radical idea expressed by Dr. Dovitch, Rachel Avalon, Kat James, and others in the healthy eating movement: Community and good health is what we should all be working toward. In the process of reclaiming our own personal health and good relationship to food, we can be on a mission for life that involves lifting up and carrying others around us. We can be teachers to young children, girls especially, about how the healthiest food choices are the greenist food choices – ones that are the best for you are the best for the planet. We emulate kitchen wisdom and pass it on to others just coming onto the path. Be an advocate for change, and help co-create the world you want to live in and eat from.