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Zoethe

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Eating graciously [Dec. 19th, 2011|12:09 pm]
Zoethe
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I just read a blog entry discussing the author's plan for Christmas dinner. Her family traditionally makes prime rib and rich side dishes for that special meal, but because she has lost weight and doesn't want to regain, she is bringing her own food instead of partaking in the family meal. She expects resistance, and is dreading the ordeal.

She then goes on to describe a meal that would be considered deprivation by any standards: steamed turkey breast (!) steamed vegetables, and half an apple with cinnamon and 6 raisins for dessert. Her planned Christmas dinner has fewer than 400 calories.

And sounds like bad hospital food.

Now, I have more than a few pounds of extra padding. I have struggled with weight my entire life, and weight has pretty much won the battle. But I really wanted to respond that I'd rather be fat than to have to eat like that.

Food is more than just fuel for our bodies. It's an integral part of our social structure, and sharing meals is a bonding experience that carries tradition into our times together and memories out of those times. A good meal, particularly a festive meal shared with family or friends (or both), feeds more than just our stomachs: it is pleasing to the eye, pleasing to the sense of smell, tactile, and even pleasing to the sense of hearing as conversation and laughter fill the room. A shared meal should fulfill all five senses.

We have gotten out of the habit of lingering at table, and food tends to be bolted down in front of the TV or the computer--I'm just as guilty as anyone else about this most of the time. It's partially because of this that the disconnect between fueling our systems and the true nourishment of dining has occurred. Even though dining out used to be considered a lingering experience, some fine restaurants are now making reservations for three separate seatings per table per evening, because they know that they can hustle diners in and out without the customers feeling rushed; they are so used to eating on a fast food schedule now that they don't even notice. Much of the time, they barely notice what they are eating.

There is some pushback going on in response to this speed-eating insanity. Restaurants like San Francisco's Saison are decreasing the number of tables and taking reservations for only one seating in an evening, with the expectation that diners will linger, talking and eating small portions of numerous courses over several hours. It's the kind of dining experience that was once common, and now is a sort of novelty.

How sad for us all. Where we used to spend time with family and friends, we now rush off to watch TV or play on the internet. Where we used to make memories of shared times - some good, some bad, some funny, some tragic - we zap something in the microwave and stuff forgettable food into our mouths. And wonder why we feel unfulfilled.

The holidays are often all we have left of those shared traditions. A group of people coming together to prepare and share a meal has a certain sacred, ritual nature to it. That nature doesn't belong to any one faith or creed; it doesn't depend on believing in anything - except the value of each other as human beings.

Yeah, lots of us suffer from difficult relationships with our families. Yeah, there can be division of labor issues with who does the cooking and cleaning up. But these issues don't detract from the bedrock nature of sharing both food and ourselves. Nurture is not just about providing the proper number of kcals and nutrients to ensure our internal combustion engines run at optimal efficiency. It's about feeding our minds and our souls as well, if not with the family of your birth, then with the family of your choosing: friends and loved ones.

And I come back to the idea of that blogger surrounded by lovingly-made food, eating her plain, white dinner while regarding the dishes around her as a sort of enemy, rejecting the love and caring that went into them in favor of food she's prepared only for herself, and brought only for her own benefit. Will she feel smug and superior as she eats her spartan meal? Will she feel resentment? Will her family look at her plate with ridicule, guilt, hurt feelings that she has rejected their traditions in favor of something so meager? What will or won't be said because of her choices? What opportunities will be lost?

I'm not saying that the notions of healthy eating should be tossed to the winds and people should stuff themselves sick just because it's Christmas. But imagine that instead of setting herself apart from family ritual, she'd brought a big green salad and some roasted brussel sprouts to share? That instead of turning her nose up at the prime rib, she'd asked to a sliver of a slice? That instead of closing herself inward to the food-is-fuel mentality, she'd embraced the idea of dining-is-sharing? For her, Christmas dinner is an ordeal to be overcome, instead of a communion of family. And it doesn't have to be.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/788022.html?mode=reply:
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-12-19 05:14 pm (UTC)
Besides, one could partake of the same food and simply ask for smaller portions. It's very easily done.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:18 pm (UTC)
Also true, though out of the question for some diet fanatics.
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[User Picture]From: aiela
2011-12-19 05:18 pm (UTC)
I know it's not exactly Fine Dining, but one of the things that throws me as I read reviews of restaurants to plan our Disney trip is people saying "You can spend TWO and a half HOURS at DINNER! Why would I want to eat there when there's other things to do?" and to me, sitting and enjoying a nicer-than-usual dinner with my family IS part of vacation.

I keep saying that instead of a new years resolution to lose weight, it should be to never put anything in my mouth that I don't absolutely love, in an attempt to re-align my thinking about food. (It helps that I enjoy healthy food, though. Heh.)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:19 pm (UTC)
Some of Disney is actually pretty fine dining, and it's sad that people can't even relate to it anymore.

And I think that's a fine resolution.
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[User Picture]From: fabricdragon
2011-12-19 05:18 pm (UTC)
sounds like an eating disorder to me.

prime rib? sure have a slice.. a small slice
make up skinnier versions of the side dishes to share.. bring a BIG salad with walnuts and a vinaigrette dressing...
and some fresh fruit...

and roasted turkey (removed skin) is within a calorie or two of steamed turkey and tastes so much better that the ONLY reason to have steamed turkey breast is in order to make food a punishment.

but i would expect that the poor child only knows how to cook that bad hospital food, and has no idea how to make GOOD food that is less fatty than her family makes..
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:21 pm (UTC)
I agree that it sounds like, at the very least, a very unhealthy relationship with food. But I've seen other people do the same thing, and it makes me very sad.
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From: anonymousalex
2011-12-19 05:40 pm (UTC)
For me, at least, one of the keys to retaining weight loss is recognizing that food is both fuel and pleasure/social. And, just as importantly, recognizing which is which.

Lunch at work? Fuel. Dinner with family? Pleasure/social. The former, I can leave out the extras (with their extra calories) because I'm not missing anything. The latter, I can enjoy properly in part because I've been smart about my fuel-only meals.

Yes, this time of year is tough, because the "special" occasions pile one upon the other. But still, if the only solution is taking six (not seven!) raisins and calling it dessert, why are you even in the room?

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:47 pm (UTC)
There are definitely times when food is pretty much just fuel, but being able to distinguish when it's more is vital to a healthy relationship with it.
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[User Picture]From: cinema_babe
2011-12-19 05:45 pm (UTC)
Well said. I believe that this type of thinking and behavior is firmly rooted in control, or more accurately, a feeling of a lack of control. I tend to suspect that a good portion of the emotional ills that plague us first worlders come out off our feeling of a lack of control of our environments.

I could blathe4r on but I see I'm already beginning to veer off topic so I'll just stop procrastinating and go back to work....
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:48 pm (UTC)
I think you're onto something, but I think the pace of our world and the need for continual external stimulation is heavily contributing.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2011-12-19 05:49 pm (UTC)
we've several diabetics in the family, so we're creative when we cook special occasion dinners. food is about FLAVOR and not QUANTITY. no-sugar-added deserts are wondermous, loads of veggies are good stuffs (especially seasoned and steamed till they're just begining to wilt a tiny bit and still crunchy), and YES we leave That Idiot Movie playing in the background, but we also do things like playing Apples to Apples or looking at picture books, and sharing memories.

this holiday will be TheEngineer, my parents, my exhusband, my son, and me all at table. and we'll have a GOOD time of it, too. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:51 pm (UTC)
Certainly actual health issues call for some adaptation of recipes, and there are healthier versions of family favorites that can be made. But you have the heart of it, which is the sharing.
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From: scarfman
2011-12-19 05:52 pm (UTC)

I'd rather be fat than to have to eat like that.

Me too. Then I had a heart attack Thanksgiving eve. I'll try to let you know when I've figured this one out.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:56 pm (UTC)
My dear Steve had one and majorly changed the way he eats, losing weight and getting considerably healthier. Health is important, and taking care of it is vital. But this is not mutually exclusive to sharing meals.
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[User Picture]From: yshaloo
2011-12-19 05:52 pm (UTC)
Just the thought of steamed turkey makes my skin crawl.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 05:57 pm (UTC)
I know, right?
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[User Picture]From: shandra
2011-12-19 06:16 pm (UTC)
It makes me very sad for that blogger.

It's incredibly embedded in parenting right now. I'll admit I lean (or at least leaned with my eldest) towards the avoid-refined-and-processed-foods-with-tots crowd. But I had my moment when one of my friends who truly loved my son offered him some god-awful Gerber strawberry-flavoured puffs.

I took a deep breath and let him have them. Because when he grows up and travels the world and people offer him local delicacies I want for him to say "yes" not "oh my god no, I only eat seaweed."
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 06:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah, I went through my kids loving to go stay the night at friends' homes because they could eat sugar cereal there. It's something we have to endure.
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[User Picture]From: roadnotes
2011-12-19 06:25 pm (UTC)
Yeesh. That meal sounds like penance: "I am a bad person for needing to lose weight, so I will torture myself by sitting with a bland meal while others around me feast." Possibly with a bit of guilt-tripping involved... but that's my first reaction.

I have discovered that the weeks in which Soren, Jane and I have a few dinners sitting at the table, taking our time and talking, are the ones in which my weight drops ever so slightly, and I feel better emotionally. Food as fuel is good at times, but food as a social activity, and, as you say, dining as sharing, seems to be better for body and soul.

(My mind has footnoted M.F.K.Fisher: memory says that she wrote about eating, even when alone, as an act which should be savored, a deliberate, mindful act.. I'm often bad at it, but it does make a difference when I do.)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 06:28 pm (UTC)
I love M.F.K. Fisher so much. And she is right.
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[User Picture]From: violet_helix
2011-12-19 06:42 pm (UTC)
The first thing that popped into my head when I read this person's Christmas "menu" was "She's never going to be able to sustain her weight loss for the long term."

As a lifelong yo-yo dieter, I've gone this route many times: deprive myself until I feel like I look "acceptable", strut around full of pride and vanity, lose control and start eating everything that isn't nailed down because I can't stand the deprivation and isolation any more. Lather, rinse repeat.

I'm currently doing Weight Watchers and I feel like it may actually stick this time. They emphasize learning to live with food, making better choices and planning ahead for Special Occasions.

Food is not the enemy.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 07:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I thought that, too.

Weight Watchers always makes me hyper-obsess over the point system. It's just not the best deal for me.
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[User Picture]From: longtimegone
2011-12-19 07:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, one of my resolutions this year was to lose 25 lbs. I've been successful. I have more to lose, but i did meet that goal.

I eat, more or less, what I want, making exceptions for meals that are more "fuel" oriented (work week breakfasts and lunches).

I get a lot of "how are you losing weight eating Chick Fil A breakfast every Saturday morning." (as an example). I sigh and roll my eyes a little, because I made a promise to myself this time that trying to lose weight was no going to be full of punishment and self-loathing. I wasn't going to do anything to lose the weight that I was not willing to do to keep it off forever, and I refuse to go through life without Chick Fil A for breakfast (for example). I could never indulge in my occasional buffalo wings and pizza Friday nights again, but I don't want to. :))

It's hard, and it's meant my weight loss is slower (or, right now, nonexistent), but yeah, I cannot eat steamed turkey for the long haul. I try not to be super critical of how other people manage their bodies, because people are going to do what they want no matter what, but the idea of counting out raisins makes me sad for her. :(
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 08:08 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on your weight loss, and on doing it the right way. You're absolutely right that a plan that is all punishment is doomed. I do feel badly for her, but most of the time when people are in that headspace, there is no getting through to them.
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From: anonymousalex
2011-12-19 09:15 pm (UTC)
You're right, of course, that there's nothing preventing one from enjoying company and conviviality while eating something different. And yet, that's not what I sense is going on, here.

If you're going to enjoy a holiday party and just happen to be eating something different, you shouldn't be walking into it with an attitude of "dreading the ordeal." Sure, the ordeal could be about the family's unreasonable insistence on what one is eating, but in that case the blog entry would be about the unreasonable family, and not contain a punctilious recitation of the minutiae of what one is planning to eat. ("Look at me! I can stop after six raisins!")

So yeah, it could be like you say. But I think I'm playing the odds.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2011-12-19 08:18 pm (UTC)
i saw a new primary care doctor this afternoon, and her team was wonderful. they asked me what my main concerns today were, and we discussed those. nobody said a damned thing about my weight.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 09:46 pm (UTC)
Awesome!
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[User Picture]From: tylik
2011-12-19 08:20 pm (UTC)
Okay, just to get the disclosures out of the way: I'm vegan. I'm a vegan who does terminal animal experiments, but still. It was kind of accidental - I stopped eating meat on purpose, but the milk allergy wasn't by choice. (And eggs have just seemed less and less like food, though for a long time I had poached duck eggs from time to time.)

I'm also a good cook, former food writer, and am generally fond of the social experience of eating.

Oh, and I never have done the diet to lose weight thing. (Though, in fact, once upon a time I was almost half again my current weight.)

So, were I eating meat and all of that, I'd personally be most likely to try and have small portions if I felt strongly about that. (As it happens, I figure, if I'm hungry, I should eat, if I'm not, I should do something else.) And otherwise, participate in and enjoy the occasion.

But... I guess I just want to put a word in about how much more than love that lovingly made food can carry. Dear gods, people can be so weird about what they think you should eat, what they think they should eat, and how they think what you are eating has something to do with them. I've had friends into the fat acceptance thing try to pressure me into eating desserts that I did not want because I shouldn't be trying to deprive myself - and bitch about how unhealthy other friends diets were. I've had friends into various diets insist on telling me at length about how food that bore a great resemblance to the food that was on my plate at that moment was horrible, fattening, and bad for one's character. My sister and her then-partner once came to Thanksgiving at my house* - which involved meat - and insisted on showing everyone a video about the horrors of the meat industry. I've had more people try to press their lovingly made treats on me, regardless of whether these were things I could safely eat.

The blogger's proposed dinner sounds pretty vile. And I tend to be of the opinion that damages to mental health people inflict on themselves by insisting on a deprivation mentality can't possibly be outweighed by physical benefits... and I'm iffy about the physical benefits in many cases.

However... There are people who will declare that my diet is definitionally unhealthy. (*grin* Though I've yet to run into anyone with as strong a background in nutrition or biochemistry.) And there are a lot of people who will assert in one way or another that your obligation to eat their food is strong that your own right to choose what you put in your body. So my heart goes out to her.

* There would be a lot more family horror stories, except for a long stretch there all holidays were at my house, and if anyone tried anything too icky I'd throw them out.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-12-19 09:51 pm (UTC)
That's pretty appalling. I certainly do not excuse in any way ANY of those behaviors. People really should keep their noses in their own plates. I didn't think it was my place to be directly confrontational with the blogger about her choices, because it's not really my place.

I just come back home to my own blog and write up my observations there instead.
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