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Cooking in the Lite Newsletter

December 2004, Issue 3: Food--Social Nutrition for the Body, Mind and Spirit

By: Brit Elders

Family. Friends. Food. Combining these elements of life can be just the recipe we need to feel full and satisfied on a mental, physical and spiritual level. And food is the catalyst. It is so energizing to gather around a table that is laden with healthy, delicious food and surrounded by people you love. An actual energy shift takes place as people are passing plates and dishing up delicacies. You can feel it. You can sense it. It is a social exchange. It's sharing that is instigated by the commonality of the meal.

Unfortunately, today fewer families and friends break bread together. Gone are the days when mothers informed their families that dinner was at 6:00 PM sharp. Today we eat as we pass through the kitchen on our way to another event in our life. With our fast-pace, multi-tasking lifestyles we have developed a tendency to conceptualize a meal. It has become a snack or fast food instead of a gathering around the dinner table. In fact, statistically 40 percent of US households claim that they rarely share one family meal a week.

Today, more often than not, both parents work. Lunch, when eaten with others, is mainly focused on business rather than enjoying the company of friends, the quality of the food, and the environment. This dilemma does not preclude children whose lives today are as busy as their parents. After school events and weekend activities consume their time and energy and alter their eating habits. With schedules that are so demanding the first thing to suffer is mealtime and the social exchange that is so important to the completeness of each human.

Food is what fuels us on many levels. With our "I'll grab a burger" concept of a meal our physical body suffers from the lack of nutrition. But that's not the only thing suffering. Our spiritual and emotional bodies are undernourished, as well. You may be asking how food nourishes the mind and soul? The exchange that goes on when two or more gather with food before them, becomes a social exchange of ideas, opinions, hopes, dreams and goals. Without the expression of these mental and emotional realities we are starving our mental and emotional bodies. If this aspect of our being is malnourished, just think of how our spirits are being deprived. Without this connection of "breaking bread" with those we care about our spirit lacks the sense of community that helps us learn, teach and better understand ourselves through sharing and communication.

And then there is television, the great distraction of life that can be equated to Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Written in 360 B.C.E., long before television, the great philosopher divided the visible world into two spheres of reality. One world was physical realities that are experienced on a first hand basis by people that were living life. Sights, sounds, touch, and interaction with other people informed them of their reality and created a substantial base for their knowledge. The other world was comprised solely of reflections and shadows seen by a group of people that were chained inside a cave. There was no physical or verbal interaction, no first hand experience, no exchange of knowledge to help them progress as humans. They were left with only reflective, shadowy images seen on the wall of a cave to create the essence of their understanding of the visible world of their reality.

We are, through television, living as the chained beings in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. How many of us have had a meal before the flickering images of television, mesmerized by the knowledge we think we are receiving when, in fact, there is no physical or verbal interaction between a human being and the television? We are being informed by those shadows and reflections on Plato's cave wall rather than by first hand tangible experience. Unfortunately, in our haste to better understand the entire picture, we often skip the part that is most important...the personal one-on-one exchange with other members of our society. Those flickering images of television may be the culprit behind what many are calling the dumbing down of society because the strength of our ability to interpret the world around us is hampered by our desire to be informed of a global world that does not include our immediate surroundings and those we share them with.

One of the best ways to expand our cave-like, overly produced reality is to empower and inform ourselves through person-to-person exchanges. And one of the best ways to achieve this is to experience the exchange over something that traditionally brings people together...food. It may seem impossible, but it really isn't that difficult. Ask yourself the following question: When was the last time you made family attendance for an evening meal or a Sunday breakfast mandatory, without the flashing screen of a television in the background? It may mean shifting some schedules and priorities, but what could be a greater priority than communicating with those that share your life? Everyone around that table benefits. Knowledge, ideas, hopes, dreams, and goals are shared and explored. A sense of unity in these personal expressions begins to take place. The group of people that have been randomly passing through each other's lives begin to better understand each other and the energy created by the group. In that understanding of others, a greater knowledge and understanding of self begins to form.

A minimum of one family meal a week can bond a group of people together in the most amazing ways. I know. I have experienced it first hand. Our family made the decision that Sunday breakfast would be a mandatory gathering in our home when our son was ten. It was a time when we could share all of the things that we had devoted our energy to during the week, the issues we were concerned about, and the hopes for the upcoming week. No topic of discussion was off limits. Our son mentioned this "new concept" of a family meal to several of his friends. Their families, like many others, had other priorities on Sunday and the idea of having to have breakfast with your parents initially seemed a little strange to them.

Before a month had passed his friends were becoming adopted members of our family on Sunday mornings. One by one they curiously joined our growing group at the breakfast table. As parents, we had the rare opportunity to hear and then delve into, with open hearts and minds, all of the issues that were part of our son's life and also those of his friends. They, in turn, had the experience of openly discussing, with their peers and adults, the pros and cons to their thoughts, actions, and desires. Our son is now grown, living in another state with his own family. Our visits throughout the year focus around at least one family meal a day at which opinions, concerns, hopes and dreams are among the topics of discussion. And, to this day, when his friends are in town they drop by for a Sunday morning breakfast that is surrounded by some of the greatest conversations I have ever experienced.

This is a microcosmic example of how food can be the centerpiece of nutrition for our physical bodies as well as our emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. Imagine what we could each personally contribute to society if every family shared at least one meal a week. Then take that imaginative picture a step further. When the family meal is expanded to include friends and acquaintances the information and contributions from each person broadens views far beyond one's expectation or imagination. Every thought shared with a group of people becomes the focus of an interactive social exchange. Each individual is touched in some way by the most subtle bit of information. Those that have participated take and receive some bit of knowledge and, in turn, share it with others. The natural social consequence is a new, less polarized, understanding of the world around them. That understanding continues to spread and eventually can extend into the global world. Just think...it could all start with you, your family, and your friends exploring different thoughts, learning about each other, enhancing your perspectives and changing the world, all while gathered around a table to share a meal.

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