Why do we eat? At first, this statement might seem silly. I mean it’s kind of obvious for everyone, right? We eat because we need food to survive and to live; we eat because we have to. End of story. Actually it is not that simple, and in a time where more and more people turn vegan, eat because it’s healthy, to make their bodies stronger, or because they were told so, it wouldn’t hurt to re-open this topic and ask ourselves one more time: why do we really eat?
When I wrapped up my food shooting session this morning, it was 1.30 pm and I finally sat down, completely exhausted and wondering what I would have for lunch. It was kind of late for lunch and I didn’t feel I had the energy to prepare something more for myself (FYI, I shot desserts this morning, therefore I didn’t go for leftovers. I do not do dessert-lunch).
Anyway, so I quickly prepared something, sat down at the kitchen table and ate alone, wondering why I was even eating since I was not hungry. Tired and a bit lost in my thoughts, I let a flow of questions enter my mind, the first one being: why am I not hungry?
1. We eat because it’s convivial
I thought about it and realized there was so much to tell. The other day, an American friend of mine told me that I had completely opened her eyes the day I said that eating was for me a way to share with others. I don’t even remember when I said that. To me it was obvious and natural, there was nothing special in this statement. I’m French and in France we like family gatherings or improvising meals and dinners with friends. It’s not an urban legend, meals can last for hours and hours. We actually love these lively times together, where everyone speak out loud interrupting each other all the time, while sharing good food together.
In the US however, we eat most of the time because food is there. This is of course an exaggeration, but there is some truth in it. I have been living in the US for over 2 years now, and what I noticed is that most of the time we eat alone, often doing something else at the same time (driving, working, etc.), without even paying attention to the food we are actually eating. If eating a full, savory lunch seems normal to me, it wouldn’t bother an American to have a muffin for lunch.
Based on my own experience, eating on my own with no one else to share my food with ends up in either paying too much attention to my food, or getting bored with the same food. In the latter, I tend to eat on-the-go, without paying attention to the food, and sometimes not even sitting for a minute or taking time to appreciate. In the long run, this phenomenon results in a lack of appetite or worse a “boredom of eating” (!!). On the opposite, sharing a meal while socializing with other people improves my relationship to food, and relieves stress at the same time while we actually take time to eat while enjoying ourselves. Eating is convivial; invite a friend over for dinner tonight!
2. We eat for the fun of cooking
Also, something I noticed while blogging: all my French readers know how to cook or to bake. We all have different levels or interests in cooking of course, but everyone have some basic skills they learned along the way, either at school or at home. Even though cooking is not taught as a separate subject at school, homemade meal preparation and even cake baking are regular activities on a weekly basis in almost every home. This way, cooking becomes natural to everyone in the early stages of life. In fact, my French readers usually don’t take a recipe for granted. Instead, they often come to me with some specific and often rather advanced questions in order to improve their skills or a recipe. They show interest in cooking and most importantly in the ingredients to use, which is to me a healthy relationship to food.
In the US, I noticed a different approach. Some people know and absolutely love to cook, others don’t and eat mostly take-out. The ones who love cooking or baking however, do not always pay much attention to the ingredients they use. I remember telling someone that I usually cut the amount of sugar by a third for a classic baking recipe, and the person confessed she never thought about doing that and would rather stick to the original recipe, no matter what it says in the instructions. Experiment in the kitchen, my friends! Worst case scenario, you can fail a recipe, but at least you will learn for next time. We should all challenge ourselves. Once you start doing it, you’ll see that cooking is actually fun.
3. We eat for being “A healthy mind in a healthy body”
Over the last few years, the number of vegetarian and vegan people increased considerably in the world, and in particular in Sweden where I lived for 7 years. Even if the trend is growing in France and in the US as well, it has never been easier for someone vegan to eat in Sweden. There, you’ll find vegan options in basically all restaurants, and when I say vegan options, I’m not talking about a boring kale salad like people tend to do in some other places. No, they actually have some great plant-based options that even non-vegan people (like me) can enjoy.
In parallel, have you noticed how many Instagram accounts are vegan? Gluten-free? Healthy and vegan? Anyway, the healthy trend is everywhere and it often goes through vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free options. I have nothing against that at all. I, myself, eat plant-based recipes most of the time and like the idea of cutting the gluten from my diet from time to time as well. What I would like to point out however is that this trend tends to become an obsession through Instagram and here as well it results in a whole new lifestyle.
So more and more, we eat because it’s plant-based, because it’s vegan, because it’s healthy… What started as a trend is not a bad thing (when it’s done with moderation) as it helps increase awareness among so many abuses in the industrial food chain and refocus on the core idea that a healthy mind lives in a healthy body, making food as our first medicine instead of using any kind of drugs.
That being said, I noticed that some people tend to become a little bit obsessed with this trend. You can, for instance, notice the increasing number of Instagram accounts showing apparently healthy girls trapped in reality in way-too-skinny-to-be-healthy-bodies, or other accounts showing people who work out as they would do drugs, making you feel guilty to not have this strong healthy body.
I think it’s important at this point to remember that this is not real world for everyone and we might need some balance in all that. I insist in particular on the fact that eating should also be fun and not only a strict discipline. It’s ok to sometimes have a little bit of sugar, fat or unhealthy food, as well as it is (please don’t be mad at me already now, dear vegan friends) to sometimes eat honey even if you are vegan. I respect and admire your strong will and discipline, but remember to not be too hard on yourself. You have nothing to prove to your Instagram followers and you can also eat to be happy, and it sometimes includes a little extra.
4. We eat the world because we are curious minds
Who never orders take-out? In the US, it’s just a regular habit to order your food in a drive-through or to take out. Over the last 10 or 15 years, the world has become even more interconnected and regional foods have clearly spread. It’s now completely normal to order Thai, Indian, Korean, or Mexican food wherever we are in the world.
We are all curious minds, and the Netflix shows or other TV programs invite us everyday to discover new regional foods. So yes, we do eat to discover the world through our plate, that’s now a fact. And we increasingly learn how to cook regional foods at home, and at the same time we improve our cooking skills, which sometimes end up in creating fusion food! The world kitchen is constantly evolving, don’t be afraid to break the rules!
5. We eat for the photo (yes we do)!
This is obvious that we now eat for the photo, we just can’t deny that. Who – be honest here – never found himself/herself taking a photo of his/her dish with his/her phone? I’m a food blogger and I do it a lot myself of course, and for so many reasons (food inspiration, Insta story and so on). However, I always feel kind of guilty when I do it and try to be as discreet as possible, especially when I go in a fancy place.
Now let’s take a step back and wonder whether this new reason to eat is actually good or bad. Spontaneously we would all agree to say that eating for the photo is bad, and it is in a way. But if you think for a minute, when taking the time to take a photo of your food, you also take time to plate and actually notice what’s in your plate instead of rushing things out and eating the whole plate in less time that you actually need to say it. I do not know whether we can actually say it’s 100% bad or 100% good, I think it’s somewhere halfway. But for sure we need to acknowledge (if not accept) the fact that in 2018 we all eat for the photo from time to time.
6. We eat for the planet
We eat more and more because we care about the environment. I sometimes hear: we eat for the planet. Sadly, I fear we are still very far. When I first moved from Sweden to the US, I was rather disciplined at sorting waste. But I soon started to act as Americans do, sorting organic and recycling in general, the last one including all recycling items. I also noticed that I would throw away much more, as every single food is wrapped in too much plastic, too much paper, too much of everything. Believe it or not, but after almost 2 years in the US sorting waste that way, I noticed that I became much less disciplined myself, something I am working on again right now.
It also seems to be a regular habit to waste food, whether at the grocery store or at the restaurant when we pack leftovers (that we then forget in the fridge and order take-out again instead). How many times have I seen that? In the same time, there is an increasing awareness about eating locally, the farm-to-table trend for instance, among others. I think we should collectively rethink our way of eating. Why we eat includes more than ever environmental aspects in order to make sure we preserve the planet the best way possible for ourselves and for the next generations. I am not an expert in this matter at all and I certainly don’t want to give you lessons as I am not the best example myself; I’m just here to open the debate.
What about you?
And what about you now? Do you sometimes wonder why you eat? We all eat to live but it’s far from being the only reason as you just noticed, and I feel it’s great to remind ourselves why we actually eat from time to time. Feel free to share your experience with me and above all remember that eating is an act of sharing and conviviality. Bon appétit!