On eating that which is real (and being relaxed about it)

Haricots with chevre

Americans never adopt fads lightly. When we take up a cause, we commit and we go to the extreme. Moderation is a virtue that we never seem to have much needed in the United States of America. Be it the size of our homes and cars, the depth and breadth of our reality TV, our fervent denial of climate change, or our mass accumulation of guns, we do nothing on a small scale. We take on nothing lightly. Nowhere does this tendency seem more clear to me than our current obsession with food.

We could talk about how enormously fat Americans are, which is true, but I am interested in the other side of the spectrum, where people are fixated on healthy food, where we consider ourselves holy because we have not (yet) slipped into obesity. It’s one pole or the other for me and my fellow patriots: Either we wantonly stuff ourselves full to bursting with tasty processed substances or we piously nibble on quinoa patties and congratulate ourselves on our freezer full of free-range, locally butchered delicacies.

Eating the right things has become a class-conscious mania that notably afflicts the middle- and upper-class, who can afford to eat well (which is in itself a terrible injustice). In lieu of humble-bragging about our legitimate virtues, we preen over our organic, local, free-range, grain-free choices at Whole Foods, and we impute it to ourselves as righteousness.* (*Side note: Concept lifted from this great/ruckus-raising sermon by Dave Zahl.)

I am as guilty of this natural-food worship as the next person. I too got fired up years ago when Food, Inc. came out. I too read all of Michael Pollan’s books and attended my farmers’ markets faithfully. I too became a vegetarian for a solid week after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I too believe that it is certainly better to support small-scale farming and to ingest organic food.

But for me, lately, the sheen of this fad has been dimming.

You can’t ask anyone over to dinner anymore without first inquiring about all of their dietary restrictions. Remembering your friends’ food aversions has become as culturally important as remembering their birthdays. Mothers self-flagellate if they don’t feed their children 100% organic, locally grown meals. Whole Foods denizens seem to have abandoned the joy of cooking and eating in exchange for the joy of self-congratulatory nutritional piety.

We eat not to enjoy food but to brag about its origin to our friends or anyone within earshot.

It’s getting out of hand.

I’ve been inspired to think about this loss of “real eating,” while reading the late, great Robert Farrar Capon’s delightfully bizarre book about food and faith, The Supper of the Lamb. As Capon says, considering a man who is obsessed by nutritional fads and rejecting food for the sake of his diet:The Supper of the Lamb

To begin with, real eating will restore his sense of the festivity of being. Food does not exist merely for the sake of its nutritional value. To see it so is only to knuckle under still further to the desubstantialization of man, to regard not what things are, but what they mean to us—to become, in short, solemn idolaters spiritualizing what should be loved as matter. A man’s daily meal ought to be an exultation over the smack of desirability which lies at the roots of creation. To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world, and, by just that much, to set the secular free.

—Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

A touch dramatic, yes, but I take his point heartily.

(As an aside, I am looking forward to taking a page from the Europeans this summer, especially the French, who seem to have perfected the artful seesaw between moderation and indulgence in eating. Both seem to be necessary for a full, happy life.)

If I may bastardize the Gospel of Matthew:

And when you eat organic kale, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to eat organic kale standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you eat organic kale, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Eat real food and enjoy it. Divorce guilt from eating. Share food, not food judgments, with others, and be thankful.

124 thoughts on “On eating that which is real (and being relaxed about it)

  1. Amen! I love Supper of the Lamb.

    In my own home, I try to eat as healthily as I can and do have some dietary restrictions because of a medical condition. If I avoid certain things, I simply feel better. However, when I go out or go to someone’s home, my aim is to enjoy the meal that is set before me, thankful for the goodness of friends and family with whom I get to share it!

  2. I agree with your ideas about Americans committing to fads in excess. Good stuff. I read Supper of the Lamb years ago. Perhaps, I should read it again.

  3. Totally love your point. Eating should nourish us emotionally as well as physically, and in each of those senses it is not only health that is important but also ‘all good things in moderation’. I’m afraid I won’t eat Kale though, in public or secret.

  4. I love this! I constantly struggle with self-guilt for not eating healthy *enough*, even though my diet has become about 200% healthier in the past 6 months. It’s important to remind myself that eating two brownies and savoring every bite is not going to make me obese. Maybe if I ate the whole pan… but I haven’t gotten quite that far yet!

  5. Yes! Thank you ! I often wonder about what happened to eating what is offered and saying thanks esp to those who are kind enough to offer nourishment or invite you into their homes and make food for you. Isn’t it sometimes more important to be grateful than to reject the food because it isn’t organic or non GMO or local or what have you esp. when someone who can’t afford organic or grass fed or can’t grow their own food because they’re a single parent or whatever but has generously offered up what they have ?

  6. I noticed difference in eating habits. My flatmate is foodblogger. She is completely crazy about food (not healthy one, just the good one). I’ve never enjoyed eating. It wasn’t any celebration to me. I don’t eat cause I want to try something new/tasty/fancy, I eat because I am hungry. I eat anything (sandwich usually). She tries to convince me to celebrating food and it’s quite interesting experience. We cook together, visit all nice restaurants in London, taking pictures of every single meal.
    I used to be a little bit crazy about labels, ingredients and calories (it was before I moved to London and my life became into roller coaster\). She tries to teach me how to slow down for a moment, forget about calories, fat and ‘healthy’ lifestyle and enjoy every single bite of chocolate fudge cake or cheesecake. We celebrate every meal what we have together, my Instagram is full of food shots (which probably annoys my followers ;)).
    I just slow down at lunch time🙂

  7. Thanks for some real insight on this topic–I personally think you nailed it. If our own pride about food and eating interferes with our relationships with others, whether cooking them a meal or going out for coffee, we’re missing the value of both. Let’s let food and the community that comes along with it form stronger relationships, not strain them.

  8. I always talk about balance when it comes to life. What we eat should be as balanced like everything else we do. I will do my best to take the guilt out of eating and both eat in moderation but still occasionally indulge. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  9. Very true, eat food, make it balanced but enjoy it with friends. If they don’t want some it, that’s fine by me.

    I am not vegetarian nor do I buy organic. Both are actually abit of a luxury (to me) and restricts me when I travel internationally to try local cuisine. I prefer to buy from Canadian farmers since I trust food safety abit better….than snowpeas from China (very puzzling to me when we can grow snowpeas in Canada. What’s the matter with farmers here…?) But winter, here we have to accept blackberries….from Mexico. I just like supporting for Canadian local economy. It’s pretty simple (and slightly nationalist of me).

  10. My in-laws had the smallest carbon footprint I know. They had been ate organically their entire life. They put up their own food and that was the way of life. They enjoyed their home made delights. They ate by the season and rarely went out to eat. They were Ohio dairy farmers. My father in laws family had been farmers since they came over on the Mayflower. These are long , traditions of a simple way to live from what you grow. I like you find this snobbery about food debilitating for the entire nation. It was the basic life style to grow and put up your own food. Therefore everyone had good healthy food to sustain them, no one was living in a food desert. Time to teach people the basic skills to care for themselves.

  11. I judge, judge, judge…because did you know wealthier Chinese like to immigrate to Canada for its cleaner air, educational system, health care and…food safety. Yup. Judge, judge….because I am influenced by my immigrant mother (didn’t finish high school) but she’s horrified to read of the food dangers (heavy use of pesticides, etc.). Judge, judge my partner was a part-time farmer for 10 years (cows, pigs) in Ontario, in adition to full time job for oil firm. So I hear it the financial risk of being a farmer, fickle weather and fickle customers…

    I like to pretend I’m not influenced of how I was raised on certain food dishes, who I know involved in food chain (my father was restaurant cook, my partner’s son owns a butcher-sandwich shop), but all of this helps eat gratefully when there’s good food on the table.

  12. I guess we can make anything an idol if we don’t watch ourselves. I agree with eating to enjoy your food and just exercise a little self – control.

  13. In a country like ours , we create chaos ovee what we eat because our food is based on what caste or what people we are . Very good and true post describing importance of food and sharing it .

  14. I was raised by a borderline-obese woman who went on and off fad diets throughout my childhood. She would partially adhere to a diet during the day, then snack on bags of chocolate and candy in the evening. She didn’t understand how to cook any protein except for chicken, and she wouldn’t bring any kind of fat into the house.
    The first time I had real butter (and knew that it was real butter) was when I was about twenty-two. Tasting butter, and then fish, and steak, and pork, and whole milk, and learning to make home-made pretzels and whole-wheat bread, absolutely changed my life.
    The attitude of hypocritical food-worship I was raised with was very strange. You’ve really captured the strangely worshipful attitude towards food that my whole family shared.
    Thank you for writing this.

  15. I had dinner guests last weekend. One had a severe gluten allergy, the other was on a low carb, low sugar diet. I eschewed the pasta, wine, and creamy desserts and went with raw alfalfa sprouts and water. It’s hard to feast on raw alfalfa sprouts and water.

  16. Let’s enjoy good food, but of course most of the things we do come with responsibility and health is one thing to consider. I hardly gain weight so I can eat as much as I want. Haha. I don’t force my self to eat healthy food because that’s what I am really craving for. If you let me eat red meat for 3 to 5 consecutive days, I’ll be drooling over leafy vegetables and fishes.

    Yes, eating isn’t just about nutritional stuff. I love to try new dishes when traveling or spending time with good friends. Enjoy every bite!🙂

  17. Very well done. I enjoyed coming across your article, and reading it. I must say that what you have written is something that we as Americans have long removed our selves from. We enjoy processed foods more than the real foods that are nutrionally dense that our bodies can process to fill our cells up to help fight against different forms of disease, and keep us healthy. Once again, thank you for the article.

  18. I agree with Jean. But I think we just have to eat wisely. And by “wisely” I mean not huge portions, as local and seasonable as possible and listen to your body, what does it want.

  19. The first time I walked into Whole Foods I thought, “Who are these people?” And then it occurred to me: They might be people battling cancer or people who, like me, were cooking for someone battling cancer. People eating like their lives depended on it.

  20. It is true many individuals in America do over eat but there is a huge difference in food of Europe and in America. Food in America is processed with unhealthy ingredients, food in Europe has less unhealthy ingredients in them but more healthy food is replaced for flavor, for instance black peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and tomato sauce/juice.

  21. Well-written and very true. We often forget, in our fervor for perfection, that we need to be grateful for the opportunities and abilities to invest in ourselves and eat as well as we do. Thank you for bringing our (un)conscious hypocrisy to light!

  22. I agree, but everyone has their choice. If you can afford to eat organic and meat free ect, that’s fine. I don’t think you should push this on anyone, and if you are going over to someone’s house for dinner, bring a dish.

  23. “You can’t ask anyone over to dinner anymore without first inquiring about all of their dietary restrictions. Remembering your friends’ food aversions has become as culturally important as remembering their birthdays” truly agreed on this

  24. First, you article was great, there is a really thinking about how society evolutate over years, how the food problem can be in the obesity problem, but also in this insane focusing and control on everything you can (or can not) eat. That’s quiet true what you just said!

    I’m french, so about your few last words, I just wanted to say that we don’t particularely do care about what we eat. I mean that we eat whatever we want to eat, we just know (that’s a feeling I guess, not a thing I’ve experienced or anything) how to stop and when, like if our body just tell us. For exemple, I can spend weeks eating mac&cheese, letteraly weeks. But one day I’ll feel that my body request something else, and I will just eat fruits and veggies. But I’m not an exemple to take haha.

    The thing is : we do not get obsessed with food, we just try to appreciate it in all circonstences, and in small quantities. We do not eat in XXL size (also because XXL menus doesn’t exist tho), but we do eat some hamburgers and fat food, and chocolate, but also a lot of veggies, bread. We got various alimentation I think this is it.
    And we try to get good products on everything (try the complete cereals bread, that so much better and tastyer than white bread).
    So if you want to be a european on your meals (that sounds really pretencious but it’s not forgive the expression I’m quiet bad in english ☺), just enjoy what you eat. And take time to eat, this is a thing we never think of but it’s important.

    I will come back on your blog, it’s a nice one !

  25. That´s very important subject to talk about.
    When I was younger I didn´t give much importance to food. I ate because I had to eat and live. That was my fuel. Usually I made some fast food or something quickly out of freezer, even though we have lots of good and fresh ingredients here in Finland. We have forests full of berries and mushrooms, fields full of grain, lakes and sea full of fish.
    Now I live quite near of one farm and they have this little addorrable shop there, where they sell their own organic food; flour, vegetables, bread, cheese and pastries. Even that is a little bit expensive than in supermarket, but much healthier and I want to support local farmer and I really respect his work.

  26. Well the picture you paint may be the US norm but unfortunately it is the same in the UK. In the usual way the British have managed to add a layer of social class onto this as well. So while endless reports show the purchase of organic food is spread across all social classes, for example, the professional trendy makes what you eat a social class statement. It is not only about the kale and its provenenance but which shop you purchased it from (preferably straight from the garden of your country house, you have a London base too of course (British cynicism here) or from a little shop opened by someone who you ‘found’ and is just about to go big and which celebrity healthy eating regime you follow. I confess I’ve always been into healthy food and how it can transform the way you feel and live but am not evangelical. Agree time to just enjoy food and not inflict your opinions and lifestyle on everyone else and feeling superior

  27. Thank you SO, SO much!! Moderation has never been so important it needs to be in this new millenia. It’s not that I’m resigned to the majority mindset such as Dr. Oz represents. You really at the heart of all of it want to experience longevity of life. After all, it’s all we know. But honestly, is quinoa great enough to substitute for the potato?? They both originated in South America.

  28. I prefer healthy food but I am not very fussy about it. When I go out on trips, its not always necessary to get my preferred food and so i just go with the flow. One should not boast about their eating habits or food knowledge everywhere. Your post has actually shown the sheer hypocrisy of such people.

  29. Hello my name is Dorine Mccray Spencer and I love when people just keep it Real about what they truly are feeling.so yes eating is always a good thing and all the fake stuff we just need to stay far away from it. So yes what great post keep up the good work Abby and may the Good Lord continue blessing you in all that you do always enjoy your day🙂

  30. Enjoyable read and interesting points. Coincidentally, I found myself thinking of Fight Club as I read this, specifically that the behaviors you’ve described fit perfectly with a consumer-driven culture.

  31. Thank you for sharing!! “A man’s daily meal ought to be an exultation over the smack of desirability which lies at the roots of creation. To break real bread is to break the loveless hold of hell upon the world, and, by just that much, to set the secular free.” love it! – JR Jaldon

  32. I totally agree . It’s one extreme to other and gets tiresome hearing about all the superficiality even down to peas and carrots . What has happened. It’s a sad day when you can’t invite friends round for dinner without comments about diets stopping the odd indulgence .. Like everything else in our world it’s being taken to far..
    Really enjoyed reading your blog . 👍🏻

  33. I have never believed in going to extremes in dieting. Everything in life is best enjoyed when done in moderation. Not one who eats a lot but when I feel like eating whatever junk or ‘unhealthy’ food, I do so and I make sure I enjoy it. After all, science keeps changing our ideas of what to eat and what not and it’s just increasingly becoming complicated.

  34. I really enjoyed reading this and found myself nodding like a dashboard dog, from paragraph one. I have health issues which have always meant having care with what I eat. That said, I break rules, it’s in my nature and I love food, it’s in my nurture. I grew up eating food from our own garden, meat from a butcher who owned the farm from which the animal was bred and fish that was bought so fresh, if you took your eyes off it, it would be on the next boat home. I eat frugally but fresh, balanced but, occasionally indulgent. I count nothing but I dine by three principles, low fat, high fibre, no sugar. So thank you, for making the point, fads kill, just as fat does.
    https://lastnightiboiledanegg.wordpress.com/
    https://ironinmyblood.com/2016/04/12/who-eats-iron/

  35. I absolutely agree with you: Eat what you love and enjoy it! Off course we have to be a bit conscious about what we put into our mouths, but generally we should think less and live more.

  36. I am guilty as charged with “food worship”. I was actually praying about this yesterday. Your post just confirmed a lot of what God’s been revealing to me lately. Thanks so much for sharing!

  37. i agree you should be able to eat whatever you want without other people telling you what to eat you are you and cant change or be anyone else.

  38. This is so relevant and similar to something I’ve been thinking of writing on for a few weeks now. It seems we’ve almost lost our sense of fun around food – it’s a celebration that is there to be enjoyed, not to self-flagellate and feel guilty over. We are so lucky to have the luxury of a full fridge, and yet we pass this by completely in favour of fads and crazes, feeling dirty if our diet wouldn’t be considered 100% ‘clean’. Thanks for writing this, and adding some more points to my own opinion on it. Emma

  39. Your post perfectly encapsulates my whole philosophy about food and eating! I am currently trying to provide an antithesis to the health-food, clean-eating craze on my own blog with various recipes: it’s Ok to eat cake sometimes.

  40. I like your point, but I am definitely guilty of “food worship”. I want to do the best that I can for my body and I don’t see it as a privilege but rather a duty that I owe to myself. But I understand how it can get in the way of every day life sometimes!

  41. nice post. The thing I found helped me with losing over 130 lbs naturally was making sure that I didn’t create a sort of Dogma about my foo choices and how and what I was eating. If what I was doing stopped working, I ha to have the right frame of mind to step back, readjust and evaluate. I think where people get into trouble is when they adopt a new lifestyle that all of a sudden defines their entire life and being.

  42. This phenomenon that is happening.. where masses are so concerned about what they eat.. where is the food that they eat coming from.. whatever it does.. it surely will bring revolutions in cooking and food processing technologies. Which was much required.. And unless that happens, it will force people to cook for themselves instead of opting for junk foods all the time.
    Great article boss!

  43. Great article! I feel the same as same as you! It’s gone way out of hand, I’m writing this in Ireland so this is a global phenomenon at the moment. We’re all amateur nutritionists these days

  44. Great post! I’m a huge fan of healthy food and putting what’s best into my body to fuel it, but I don’t preach or judge those around me. We should always be enjoying each other’s company, and the foods we love most. In moderation of course! Side note… We don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time to be healthy🙂.

  45. Good read but my gosh I feel that the Europeans are blessed with the lack of fast food all around them and easier walking than driving. The day I can enjoy the good food as much as I can indulge in the not-so-good food will be the day I can get out from behind this desk and actually move throughout the day!

  46. Remembering dietary restrictions is hard.. after five or so years, my mother cant even remember my lactose or soya intolerance..

  47. “Remembering your friends’ food aversions has become as culturally important as remembering their birthdays.”

    And they are all different; preparing a dinner party is like treading a culinary minefield. Awesome post!

  48. Love your article, and the rewording of the Gospel of Matthew! I recently rediscovered the joy of butter – how good it tastes! But I must admit it helped to know that apparently butter isn’t the evil thing it was once purported to be.

  49. I’m British living in France and so love food and whilst I try to be ‘healthy’ (or whatever that really is) most of the time food for me is always a celebration and a time for chewing over the day, debates and laughter. I’m not sure I could do those things with a quinoa salad – thank goodness the French don’t really go in for all the ‘superfoods’, oh and they are fairly skinny too. I know that many people have intolerances which make life difficult so it’s important to make sure you are not poisoning someone but generally if you are coming to my house then you eat what you are given! Forgive me!

  50. This is so great, I actually needed to read sth. like this. I either eat as shit or super healthy. I’ve been battling with my weight and still haven’t found the middle of healthy but relaxed eating. Thank you for this🙂

  51. I agree with you so much. The perfect balance is what we need with moderation. I love to cook for people but it isn’t any longer fun. There are as you stated so many restrictions. Thank you for bringing this to conversation.

  52. I’m from the UK and I am a master of all or nothing. All of the cake, none of the veg. Really trying to make it refined sugar-free cake these days though… Trying to master the moderation… Thanks for a great post😉

  53. yeah, just skip the food and just eat your bible.
    Guilt complex…over having access???
    Whatever! Jesus has NOTHING to do with your diet. You’re an asshole.

  54. This was refreshing to read. I am in recovery from an eating disorder (Orthorexia/anorexia) due to this very media fad of only consuming the most nutritious foods. I still sometimes struggle with guilt when I succumb to a burger and fries, or birthday cake. Americans are certainly on two opposite sides of the spectrum and eating disorders awareness is often thrown to the wayside for obesity awareness.

  55. What bugs me is how so much that is right in the US is mostly enjoyed by our most irritating demographic these days, young up and comers on the path to gentrifying every blighted neighborhood on the east coast. They’re the new bourgeoisie. Good credit and degree of privilege has made them into demigods and they like to classify themselves as the 98%, until their fortunes turn. Then they become this generations yuppies. This has made me (just now) decide to quit calling myself a foodie. It’s no longer palatable. Thanks.

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