By Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMSC
You would think as a personal trainer and runner that I always view food appropriately. But my question to you is what does that statement even mean, “view food appropriately.” As a senior in college I took a capstone class called The Spirituality and Ethics of Food and Eating. It opened my eyes to a whole new take on food. I’ve pulled out a few excerpts to share with you, but also to remind myself, as I often need to do, that food is more than a biased view of being nutritious or disastrous…
Eat to run. Run to eat. These are two very different statements, yet they reveal a similar message about food—one that is narrow-minded and marginalizes food by saying that it is meant to only satisfy the body’s need—either for calories or pleasure. This little idiom was once stated to me and has since painted a harsh black and white image of food in my mind. I have come to realize, this is quite an unhealthy view of food and unfortunately one that I have held for most of my life. As a runner, I have seen food as fuel more often than not. As someone with an Exercise Science degree, I have come to understand food’s most beneficial and detrimental qualities as well. Most of the time, it seems, I eat to run; to give my body the appropriate nutrients it needs to perform its best. Many other people perform exercise to eat and enjoy the foods that they love and do not have the willpower to give up. Yet this black and white image of food is too simple, too unappreciative of the true value that food is meant to hold for us. The balance comes in taking in food as a whole and seeing it from all perspectives: physically, culturally, socially, and spiritually. What is the appropriate response to food, then?
Understanding food for its life nourishing properties certainly takes part in valuing its worth. The necessity for good nutrition and proper diet has been ingrained within me through my classes and readings. In numerous instances I have seen the accounts of rising obesity rates, malnutrition, and lack of good diet. The consequences of such diets have resulted in a society in which “Every year, 350,000 deaths are attributable to poor diet and inactivity” (Prose, 2003, p. 77) – probably much higher today. We look around and witness a world where food is no longer a life source, but a death sentence. Few find a healthy balance. It is either too much, too little, or the actual quality of the food itself is too low. My former attitude toward solving the obesity epidemic sounded something like this: “If eating too much has brought on high blood pressure, heart trouble, or many other diseases which come from being overweight, then God requires a reduction in your eating” (Prose, 2003, p. 75). However, this problem is further complicated by this fact: “The essential purpose of food, which is to nourish people, has been subordinated to the economic aims of a handful of multinational corporations that monopolize all aspects of food production, from seeds to major distribution chains, and they have been the prime beneficiaries of the world crisis” (as cited in Young, 2012, p. 118). A simple solution quickly becomes insignificant.
I will take the thought of valuing food one step further. Being an avid runner, I have always been aware of the foods going into my body. I typically try to balance each meal and day by consuming the appropriate amounts of each food group. In my naivety, however, I have failed to recognize the very essence of these foods. I rarely question where did this zucchini grow? And in what manner did the toasted turkey under a layer of mashed potatoes live? I appreciate a colorful plate of variety; I thank God for the bounty before me, yet I frequently fail in the effort to truly enjoy the food or truly be thankful for its origin. I eat, oftentimes, too quickly. I think more about the nutrients than I do the pleasure or the company with which I am eating. How can I better appreciate eating? The beauty of the family meal is a hearty tradition that we as a society have lost and is one way to better appreciate the quality food has. We read from The Spirit of Food that family dinners are A Way of Loving, as one husband and wife put it: “It is sad how foreign it is to sit unhurriedly, to eating lovingly crafted food attentively, and to have meaningful, personal conversations during meals…Offering our hospitality is a medium of grace that opens hearts to deeper things. It is a simple way of loving.”
When I eat, I must realize that much more than a physical process is happening in my body. I can now better grasp the intrinsic, and ultimately, spiritual value that food has for me. Life is more than food. Food is more than life. And food is more than mere fuel or pleasure. It is created to do both of these things, I do believe, but also more by bringing people together. I must remember that simplifying food does no justice to the created beauty with which it is designed to hold. Therefore, whether I eat simply alone or extravagantly with others, I no longer depict food in the black and white picture in which I once viewed it.