food and love – which is, of course, the same thing
Alan Alda, who is an actor your parents and grandparents will know from the “70s sitcom M*A*S*H, has provided the world with many gifts. In the early 1970s he worked on the critically acclaimed children’s album Free to Be You and Me, which was a revolutionary work in support of women's rights. He’s done extensive charity work with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and in 2010 became a visiting professor at Stony Brook University, where he was named founder and member of the advisory board for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. In February of 2021, Alda received the first-ever Distinguished Kavli Science Communicator award for his pioneering work in communicating the excitement, mystery, and marvels of science. In short, he is an accomplished man. However, to me the most interesting thing about Alda is the story of how he met his wife Arlene Weiss.
The two met at a mutual friend’s dinner party; they bonded when a rum cake accidentally fell onto the kitchen floor and they were the only two guests who did not hesitate to eat it. After the story went viral on Twitter in the summer of 2021, Alda commented on the incident saying, “We did eat the rum cake off the floor and were inseparable after that. But I was captivated by her even earlier in the meal when I heard her at the end of the table laughing at my jokes. She had me at Ha.” They were married a year after he graduated, and had three daughters. In 2018, Alda interviewed his wife on his podcast Sporkful, and in promoting the episode on twitter he said, “Arelene and I on the Sporkful podcast, talking about food and love – which is, of course the same thing.” This phrase and antidote has made a home inside my heart, which is why I am here writing to you.
This culture of ours has taken the pleasure out of food – both in its consumption, taste, and preparation. We are so busy, counting calories, tending to our work and our responsibilities, biting off more than we can chew, and all the while, eating itself is treated like a consequential part of living. From as early as I can remember, people around me have struggled to have a healthy relationship with food. My sister says she despises eating – a chore she often skips. When I was a student-athlete, my mother (who once followed a similar path) introduced me to the world of orthorexia, the unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way. In middle school it was not uncommon for our allotted lunch time to turn into vent sessions surrounding the impossibilities of navigating food and how it affects our bodies. We were kids with fixed portions and snacks hidden in our rooms, kids who use picky-eating as a crutch to get out of eating at all – we were stomaching shame and guilt in place of satisfying meals and mindfulness.
The phrase “food and love – which is, of course the same thing,” allows one to reclaim the idea of intuitive eating while simultaneously banishing the baggage of disordered thinking. There is a poem called “Perhaps the world ends here” by Joy Harjo that has the line “The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.” There is a soft urgency to this. To cook for oneself and for others is to express affection. Cooking is an act of self-nourishment – it makes you and others feel better, which is the purpose of why we are here. So many of my favorite love songs speak of sharing food: Leonard Cohen swoons “And she feeds you tea and oranges / That come all the way from China” in Suzanne and Joni Mitchell beams “I bring him apples and cheeses” in Conversation. It is throwing a picnic, the love stored in the basket. There is intimacy and a great deal of consideration in eating with another. You are wishing for them and yourself to eat well; to be taken care of. The touch of love is in everything – especially food. In order to survive, you must transition your thoughts about food to see it as more than an obligation, rather a sacrament to be regarded with humanity and reverence. Find comfort in the kitchen. Do not punish the growl in your stomach. Instead, investigate it without judgment and open your heart.
Making a good meal can redeem the end of a bad day. If you have the time to do something kind for yourself, then frustrations tend to fall away. It is impossible to be in the right state of mind if you have not eaten well. It is not only empowering, but soothing to cook a meal for yourself, as this act requires you to tune in with your body, sense what you’re craving, and address it with careful consideration. Cooking for yourself can become an act of self-care if approached correctly. It isn’t about chopping vegetables with precision or caramelizing onions to a perfect standard. Instead, I believe tenderness is found in doing something at the service of yourself, regardless of the emotional baggage you may be carrying. And to eat without fear or haste is the closest thing we have to unconditional love. Mindfulness, a practice based in Zen Buddhism, asks that we regulate our emotions by self-calming. as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, it is about “paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,”. This line of thought has provided much solace to those monitoring and coping with chronic pain, sleeping problems, anxiety, etc. and has recently been suggested as something that could be applied to one’s overall approach to eating. The goal is to give undivided attention to food and the sensations we experience while eating so as to savor the moment we have with food, encouraging a full-presence for the experience. This practice fundamentally operates with the hope of individuals sustaining a behavior change – choosing healthy foods and proper servings based on the body’s intuitive calls and signals. One can recognize if their body is undergoing intensive amounts of stress in correlation to how quickly they are eating, or what food they grabbed to snack on, and adjust accordingly. Mindful eating is not about restricting intake, it is simply about finding what feels good.There are no rules or guidelines. Mindful eating is about showing up for yourself so you can have individual experiences with food and be in the present while having them. To approach food with a beginner’s mind and the purpose of cultivating love is the start of one’s journey in mending their relationship with food and what it means to be healthy.
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