Food, food, food – where ever I go, it is about food. What to eat, when to eat, where to eat, with whom to eat…journals and magazines are full of recipes, there are TV shows and cooking classes, books and seminars, workshops and lectures – all about food. The grocery store is offering a forever bigger variety of food stuff, markets and food stalls everywhere, farmers offering produce, restaurants and street-food, online shopping and specialty foods – people are eating, eating, eating and if they are not eating, they may be thinking of where to get their next meal or discussing what they had for lunch.
If we can afford it, we soon become obsessed with food and eating. Abundance on the table has always been a sign of wealth, but what we do now stands in no relation to what may have been the habit of the rich – to show off their wealth and feast on the sense of security that comes with a overladen dinner table. But what we can observe now in the industrialized world, is a spell that stands in no relation to our actual physical, psychological and energetic requirements. Look at the plates and the enormous amount of food piled on them, think of the buffets with the bulging bowls and platters, the overladen carts in the grocery store. the bulging bags carried home. It is not only about food, this is is about overabundance and opulence, splurging, gorging and overindulging.
The word that is coming to mind is gluttony.
Gluttony is derived from the Latin “gluttire” and it means to gulp down. It means over-consumption of food and drink to the point of waste. It is a misplaced desire for food and on the flipside of it, it is withholding it from the needy.
So what has happened here ?
There are several qualities about food that are pointers.
First of all, food is grounding. The sensual experience of smelling, tasting and eating food counteracts the mental preoccupation and fixations in in which we spend most of the day. It breaks the boredom, the anxiety or the sense of losing control. To put something in our mouth and chew on it, creates a wonderful sense of “realness” in an increasingly “unreal” world, that seems to be very much out of control, balance and predictability. To eat something means to feel secure for a moment and to have more food than one can possibly eat, provides a sense of security, that we have lost in our day to day living.
Secondly, food is about nourishment. It fills you up, provides warmth and energy, soothes that nagging feeling and the sense of emptiness. It is calming and provides a sense of fulfillment, even contentment. It is wonderful to eat when we are hungry – but be honest – is it really hunger we feel when it is time to eat ? It takes 4-5 hours for the stomach to empty after a meal, so looking at the eating and snacking habits, the stomach will rarely be empty. Food supplies the body with the energy and the necessary building-blocks to stay healthy, and this is a highly individual affair. We may not always get the exact type of food we crave, but generally we do have a choice between a variety of food and how much we eat of which type. Eating is about correcting an imbalance, not really about eating everything on the plate. But we often forget and follow our appetite, that more often than not is skewed by the ideas of the mind. It is very hard work for the body to digest food, in particular if we eat the wrong kind of food – or too much.
Lastly, food is about energy. What I eat provides a certain kind of energy and helps me navigate through the day. To eat in company means to receive energy from more than just food, it also provides a situation of enjoying each other’s company and drawing energy from being with each other. But more often than not, eating seems to be more about a distraction – a backdrop to socialising or creating a situation of feeling a part of a group, joined around a dinner table. Of course there is nothing wrong with it, but can anyone be conscious of food and a converstaion ? We are used to eating in company, so eating alone can appear boring or out of place, because we so much associate a social event with it.
As the availability and variety of food has become the symbol of our affluence, it has also become a compulsion. Food can be put on one level with security and stability and this is why we like it so much. If there is food, I feel safe and moreover there is am element of control when it comes to eating, and that seems to be the basis of our infatuation with it.
Food is necessary to maintain health and energy. But it is not a remedy for feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or out of control. It provides energy, but it is not a substitute for the warmth of real intimacy and human relationship. Food has become the outer expression of what is perceived as an inner lack: We try to still the hunger of our soul for truth with opulence. That dreaded sense of inner austerity and dryness is being numbed by overindulgence. The stresses of inner conflict is being anaesthesised with large portions of meals that leave us heavy, lazy and immovable.
And this is how food may become an addiction.