I grab the shifter with my right hand and put the car into first, second, third…oh, good, a red light! I can stop and eat three more bites before the light turns green! I stab my broccoli and chicken leftovers from last night’s dinner and shove them into my mouth. Green! I put down my fork and grab the shifter once again.
This is me, on my occasionally busy days, trying to make appointments, run errands, and throw in eating my lunch along the way. I’m not proud of eating on the run, and thankfully, it doesn’t happen as much as it used too. I feel that sometimes it can’t be helped. I tell myself that I need to eat often, even on busy days, to prevent uncomfortable hypoglycemia symptoms, which is a good thing. But then, I ponder whether I might be exacerbating my gut problems by eating in a stressful environment, like driving in traffic! Why can’t I structure my schedule so I can enjoy my food? You’ve done this before, right? Please tell me yes, so I don’t feel like I’m the only one!
Why do we eat so fast? Or better yet, why don’t we value the pleasure of eating? It seems to me that our culture values busyness and achievement over relationships and food. We seek after the next distraction; stimulation over refreshment and reflective thought. Busyness is addictive. It feels good to run on an adrenaline high all the time. Preparing quality meals and eating slowly takes second place, or in some families, third or fourth place. Microwave meals save the day, and give sustenance to our hungry children. Or do they? Have we traded the taste of real food for a life of ease and convenience? And by extension, have we traded the nutritional power of real food for lackluster health.
In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, he says,
“To eat slowly, is to eat with a fuller knowledge of all that is involved in bringing food out of the earth and to the table…to eat deliberately, in the original sense of the word: “from freedom” instead of compulsion. Many food cultures, particularly those at less of a remove from the land than ours, have rituals to encourage this sort of eating, such as offering a blessing over the food or saying grace before the meal. The point, it seems to me, is to make sure that we don’t eat thoughtlessly or hurriedly and that knowledge and gratitude will inflect our pleasure at the table.”
During my college years, I had the privilege of touring Spain twice with a chamber choir. Singing in the cathedrals was glorious, but equally valuable was enjoying the cultural value of siesta every day of the week. The native people literally took several hours off during the middle of their workday to enjoy food and rest. They went hand in hand. Some took a nap, some did not. But all reveled in this afternoon break where the biggest meal of the day was served. Daily tasks were temporarily suspended while food and respite took priority. Not only did I observe real food being prepared and consumed slowly, I was also impressed by the significance Spaniards placed on relationships and communication at the table.
By contrast, Americans tend to value efficiency. From an early age in public school, children are taught that schedules and deadlines are fundamental. When I teach as a substitute in my local school district, I see elementary students herded into the cafeteria for a short 15 minute lunch and then shoved off to recess to shake up their hastily downed bologna sandwich, apple slices, and gummy bears (and that is considered a healthy lunch!). I cringe at what most students bring for a packed lunch, much less what the rest of the population is served by the school lunch staff. But I digress. How we eat is just as important as what we eat.
In their book, The Food Intolerance Bible, Antony Haynes and Antonette Savill share evidence that stress can cause IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. The chapter entitled The Stress Factor states,
“The intestines have been referred to as “man’s second brain” – not least because they contain a tremendous number of nerves which both receive and impart information and messages. If there is discomfort in the stomach or intestines, then in a matter of split seconds your central nervous system will know about it. This puts your body in sympathetic mode, which is the same mode as if you were under duress, preparing your body for fight or flight. This alert mode decreases blood supply to your digestive system and shunts more to your large muscles. The lack of blood flow to your digestive functions can readily exacerbate digestive problems, creating a vicious cycle. In this way, once IBS has been established for some time, stress has an impact from two perspectives, – external forces (the stresses of life) and internal ones.”
We know by experience and scientific study that this statement is true. Eating too quickly, eating while working, eating while driving, or eating while watching an action flick can result in further digestive complications and create an ongoing cycle of bodily stress.
What do we do?
Our lifestyles need to match our values of eating.
Easier said than done! But making small steps toward prioritizing real food and slow mealtimes will get us to were we want to be. These steps may be helpful.
- Eat with purpose – Evaluate not only what you eat, but how you eat. Change your schedule so you have time to eat. Chew slowly and fully, so your digestive system can absorb the nutrients from your food. These simple but profound adjustments can have huge health benefits to you and your family.
- Savor each bite – Taste the flavors of each spoonful. Allow the taste buds you’ve been given to work to their full potential! Real food ingredients are satisfying. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage all your senses while eating.
- Give thanks for your food – Before you take the first bite, stop and give thanks to God, the One who created food for us to enjoy. In your prayers, also offer thanksgiving to God for the farmer, the rancher, and the cook (usually the wife and mom!) who prepared your meal.
- Foster family time at the table – By taking time to eat with your family, you place importance on relationships. At the end of your life, you will be glad you spent more time with those you love, not more time at the office or more time in front of the television. Food brings people together. Let those people be your family members.
For more positive reinforcement, I encourage you to check out Slow Food USA. I applaud the food merits they promote. Cooking and eating whole ingredients, avoiding processed foods, growing your own food, knowing your farmer and rancher, shopping at farmers markets, buying from local community supported agriculture (CSA) programs and learning about regional food history and cultural dishes are all values that we can strive for.
I realize that we live in the REAL world. We have to shop at grocery stores and eat quickly before an evening meeting on occasion. But I still want to challenge you to slow down and truly enjoy your food for most of your meals. My husband and I usually sit down and enjoy restful evening meals. But we could do better.
What about your family? Do you eat slowly and enjoy?
Take time to enjoy your food.