I come from a family of foodies. My mother’s a great cook, as were her mother and grandmother before her. My dad was a great cook, as was his mother before him. Both my grandmas came of age during the Great Depression, so they knew a thing or two about growing their own food and making a meal stretch. Dad kept a huge garden all the years my sisters and I were growing up. It was common on any given summer evening to feast on a meal in which only the meat had been bought from a grocery store. So we learned the connections between nurturing plants, harvesting the goods, and turning them into a family meal.
For many years now, I have lived in a city, and I’ve been a foodie in another way entirely. In Chicago it’s possible to find restaurants of every cuisine, and I must confess that one of my favorite pastimes has been discovering new places to eat and trying a variety of dishes. Just this week, while commuting to work, I stopped at a new gourmet doughnut place downtown. During the past decade, outdoor dining has become wildly popular here, so now my husband and I scope out the eating establishments with the best patios or rooftop dining spaces.
I worry, though, about the current cultural obsession with food. Not that many years ago, you could find a few cooking shows on television—now there are entire networks that do nothing but food programming. And what began as appreciation for good food creatively presented has turned into a relentless machine of competition, high-stress drama, and at times ridiculous outcomes. It’s not enough simply to enjoy food anymore—we must turn it into a pressure cooker of criticism that leads to the ultimate humiliation of someone, usually several people during one episode.
And I worry about my own endless search for the perfect meal. In fact, I don’t feel as motivated anymore to try every new restaurant. I’m no longer looking for novelty, just quality. Like any other area of life, eating can go out of balance. To put it in the vocabulary of St. Ignatius of Loyola: food and all its accompanying activities can devolve into a massive disordered attachment.
Because of my work schedule, I don’t get to cook very often; my longsuffering husband has taken over most of that responsibility. But we’re both tired of bigger and fancier and richer when it comes to what we eat. We’re looking for fresh fruits and vegetables, less meat on the plate (and often, no meat at all), and smaller portions overall. We don’t eat as much in volume, but I think that helps us better to enjoy what we do eat and to eat it with more intention and gratitude.
- What have you learned about good food and good eating?
- What changes, if any, have you made in your approach to food in the past few years?
- How do you relate food and eating to your interior life, to your spiritual vitality?