Monday, June 11, 2012

Mind Over Matter?

I've been discussing the phenomenon of state-of-mind and its relationship to our health with a few colleagues lately. Let's take a moment to explore two common scenarios:
How is it many of the shoppers I witness in my local organic grocery store seem so tight and rigid despite a cart overflowing with the "perfect" assortment of foods? I see kim chi, mostly produce, grass-fed meats, sprouted bread, yada yada yada, but there is no smile on this person's face. Not by a long shot.
Beam me over to the "counter" (as locals call it) within the neighborhood Rite Aid; old ladies flipping flapjacks and serving up plate after plate of crispy hash browns and black coffee to its regulars, and the mood lightens tremendously. This is no health-food buffet. Mention wheat grass shots and you'll most likely get thrown out. But jokes are staples here, and friendly banter reigns. A stark difference from the holier than thou atmosphere plaguing my regular shopping experiences.
Recent research states changing the way we think may be one of the most critical gains for our long term health. How is this so if it isn't also accompanied by three serving of dark leafy greens per day? Perhaps a fine line to this theory exists. No one would reasonably argue healthy eating does not equal better health, but the obsessive-compulsive need for perfection in addition to the judgmental nature often associated with "higher eating" may be neutralizing much of the good we are striving for. Eat real food yes, but for the love of all things sacred, take a moment to savor the act.
This brings me to the definition of health. If dogmas and lists of restrictions replace the bottom line, are they worthwhile? I ask myself this question often. Back in my vegetarian days while attempting a livelihood farming with my sister, a very old family friend (in her 80's, widowed, and of extremely modest means) came to our door shortly after we'd moved in, with a dish of wild boar (killed by her son the week prior) and a side of candied yams. This was a moment to weigh my food ethics. Did my desire to refrain from eating animals trump my desire to show a deep appreciation for her gesture? I decided it did not. And that wild boar remains in my memory as one of the most delicious meals I've ever had. Her generosity made it all the more nourishing.
What is nourishment? Is it eating perfectly, or is it more than this? Our state of mind is no doubt connected to our health, while our health is also connected to our state of mind. Food plays it's role, but it may not be the one and only deciding factor.
I am not suggesting we throw all caution to the wind and trade healthful eating for take out meals 7 days a week as long as we keep cracking jokes and have fun while we're at it. But I am suggesting we adopt some flexibility. Do I keep corn syrup out of my home as a rule? Yes. Will I savor a cup of lemonade peddled by grade schoolers from a homemade booth despite it's ingredient list? Absolutely. There are times to be a purist, and times to bury the hatchet. This may be the difference between experiencing the satisfaction of good food verses following the rules to a fault. If we consider ourselves too self important to let some things slide, we may miss the gift of truly being healthy.
Have you ever been out to eat with someone who has to ask the waiter a chapter's worth of questions about the ingredients of a perspective dish before making a decision, ("oh and hold the nightshades and have the chef brush the grill with olive oil verses butter"). Why go out to eat in the first place? Can you enjoy if you are too caught up in micro managing to do so?
I ask this because I am wary of a self obsessed backlash to the modern heath food movement. Allowing healthy eating to socially isolate is not so healthy after all. I believe we were created to enjoy food, not to make it into a false idol. Nor should we allow it to make us sick. A wonderful place exists in between.
As written in Psalms 104:15, we were given "wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart." Real food is intended to nourish us deeply and sufficiently, but should not overshadow the fact that pedestals do little to fortify community.
Let us rediscover the simplicity of good eating and retire the tendency to wear it like a badge of social class. May our shopping bags and gardens overflow with nourishing food, and may we have the freedom to enjoy it like the good ol' boys eating flapjacks at the counter.


  1. I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for the reminder about the "love" side of food. It is important to keep our attitudes healthy as well as the food! Thanks for the scripture reference as well. There's nothing like scripture to help us find center.

  2. I agree with you Rachel. There has got to be some joy and fun to make food actually nourishing in a ('scuse this word) holistic way. Seriously though, I picture a real sweet person eating a bologna sandwich every day at lunch, and in comparison...a person so strict about food that their joy is lost. Surely the bologna-sandwich-eater with the friendly heart is better off.

  3. I'll take a fried pie served with love by a beaming Zoe over a hilarious group phone call over a kale salad from Whole Foods any day. The communal sacrament of eating together trumps all!

  4. A most truthful and eloquent essay. I could not agree more. Your message conjured sweet memories of my great grandmother who raised 5 healthy girls on a depression-era, single mother salary. Her meals may not have been organic, sprouted, or sugar free, but they were jam packed with love. What I would give for one of those buttery, white flour, white sugar biscuits fresh out the oven...