Eat to live, or live to eat?

A nice, short NYT article on the dangers of eating like an American.

When I was growing up in Italy and then in New York, I remember having a one-liter bottle of Coke in the refrigerator. It took my parents and me almost a week to drink it. Now, a 32-ounce Coke is a single serving.

And when my grandmother came to visit from Italy, many years ago, we went out to eat at a restaurant in New York. She was served first and was baffled by the amount of food on the large plate placed in front of her. Then she had a realization: “Oh,” she said, “am I supposed to serve everyone?”

It certainly is difficult to eat sensibly in our time and place. Everywhere we go we’re bombarded by messages to eat, to eat more and to eat worse, or else to not eat at all or eat only certain things. It’s hard to eat without either analyzing beforehand or feeling guilty afterward. I’ve been especially sensitive to this lately because of all the weight I’ve gained since I came home. I’ve definitely been curbing my eating more than usual, and thinking more carefully about my food choices. I’ve decided that the eat-anything attitude I adopted during the past year–maintained by regular dance classes–was probably bad for my health, fun as it was, and as little impact as it had on my appearance. Regardless of what I look like, I should be making efforts to lower my intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, processed grains, sugar, and sodium. You know me: if offered a slice of plain whole-wheat toast and a slice of crumb-topped peach pie with creme fraiche, the poor toast wouldn’t even get a second glance. But I’m trying not to think of my food choices that way. Instead, I ask myself, do I really want that pie? To my surprise, the answer is frequently a no. Or, I’ll realize that I can get by without the pie–if I have some rustic whole-wheat artisan bread with homemade peach preserves instead.

Eating right–the way I define it–suits my other life philosophies just fine. I believe in listening to my body, and I’ve found that when I do, it will tell me what to eat. I also believe in not doing anything unless you believe in it entirely (obviously a difficult rule to follow), which translates in eating terms to: if you don’t really want it, don’t eat it. There are problems, naturally. If I don’t feel like cooking, I reach for the most easily prepared foods, which are often the worst for me (premade or homemade). If I eat out or with friends, it’s tempting to overeat. So I try to keep in mind Erik’s eating philosophy: everything in moderation. It’s a learning process.

My guide to eating well:
1. Don’t eat just because it tastes good, or because you know you have to. Eat because eating is a wonderful way of maintaining your body and your health. Food existed first to nourish your body. The yummyness thing came later.
2. Choose and prepare your food with care and reverence. Think about what you’re eating: where it came from, how it lived, who took care of it and brought it to you. Think about what it will do once it’s in your system: where it will go, what it will build, what it will help you do. Your body is your temple, as they say, and you should treat it as you would any other valuable possession. Eat accordingly. It is surely more important–and more irreplaceable–than anything else you will ever own.
3. Don’t eat if you don’t want to, and don’t eat more than you need to. Food is all over the place in America. If you don’t eat it this time, you can always get it again. Especially: don’t clear your plate just because you don’t want to see food go to waste. If you’re dumping it down your throat just to avoid dumping it in the trash can, you’re treating your body as no better than a garbage disposal. And don’t feel guilty about all the starving children in third-world countries; your overeating doesn’t make them better fed. Just be more careful about your portions next time.
4. These rules are all very well and good, but if you follow them all, you are a bore to eat with. The important thing with eating, as with everything else, is to go with the flow and learn as you go, and enjoy it.

As an aside, I had Indian food and pie with Dana last night, and it was lovely as always. Dana: this entry is not a response to our dinner!

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]