5 Reasons Why Food Matters that Have Nothing to Do with Nutrition
In this wellness era that we’re currently living in, it can be a bit challenging to be a blogger who talks about the great change that veganism could create in the world, and who also talks about improving your relationship with food, leaving dieting and restriction behind AND also be someone who is a trained cook. We’ll have a post soon in which I’ll talk about which of these aspects of me came first, and which followed, but one thing is for sure, nothing has preceded my love of food and cooking, my passion for ingredients and flavor combinations, or my undying love for reading cookbooks like they were novels in the New York Time’s Bestseller list. If there’s one thing you can be sure I am, and always will be, it’s a cook.
Food is so important to me, it makes up such a huge part of my day, and once upon a time we had an unhealthy relationship, sure, but it was precisely my issues with food that brought me where I am today, and gave me all those big aha! moments that made me understand why food is so important.
I get questions from our readers and listeners almost every single day, and so many revolve around nutrition, weight, and the fear we’ve developed over certain foods. It’s common in this wellness era, and especially within the vegan arena, in which making a switch to a kinder alternative has sometimes gotten mixed up with so many rules of “shoulds” and “shouldn'ts”. It has gone straight into the traps of diet culture and the idea that there’s one perfect way to eat. That it’s a direct path to weight loss heaven or body image nirvana, provided of course that you follow the rules.
I talk about the huge pressures and expectations, not to mention additional restrictions we’ve placed upon people who are trying to make more vegan choices in our course The Roadmap. In fact, the second you start your journey through the course you’ll hear me turn so many of your preconceptions on their heads.
As you know, our approach is all about that long road ahead, it’s about how restriction and the rules of eating and dieting can actually turn you in the opposite direction of a better relationship with food (there’s a whole module in the course that’s all about a new approach to weight and our bodies, which might just be my favorite part of The Roadmap). Today though, I wanted to open this topic up and talk about that thing we call food that used to be simple. One that has now been turned into numbers, grams, calories, macros, timetables and the like.
Believe me, our great grandmothers had a very different way to relate to food. If I put myself in their shoes, I’m pretty sure food was mostly about shared experiences, about gratitude for having it at all in times of food insecurity, it was about nourishment to a healthy degree, pleasure and delight.
Today I want to share 5 reasons why food matters that have nothing to do with nutrition. Yes, food nourishes us and this is its main purpose, to keep us alive and preferably thriving and enjoying life to the fullest, but it isn’t food’s only purpose. When my story came full circle (something we’ll be talking about in the next few episodes), going from an emotional overeater, to vegan, to practicing severe restriction and an unhealthy relationship with food while I was vegan, to finally understanding what I needed and managed to heal my relationship with food while still making this very kind choice that is so important to me, it was realizing that food was much more than what I made it out to be (best friend/my only way to deal with emotions or nemesis, but nowhere in between), that really helped me heal my relationship with food.
It also got me back to my roots, where this whole journey had started for me, and that was behind the stove where all that food magic happens.
Reason #1: Food is a powerful connection to the world we live in
Everything we do on this planet has an effect on this world we live in. The food we eat is such a huge part of our connection to this world because we do it several times a day, every single day, and there are billions of people on this planet.
As you know, I decided to go vegan many moons ago precisely because I learned how our food choices impact the animals we raise, the environment we live in, not to mention our fellow human beings.
Food impacts the way animals are treated in these industries, and the billions of land animals and trillions of sea animals that are killed each year when there is a kinder alternative. Food impacts the resources that need to be used for it to become available to us. From soil quality and plots of land, to water use, energy use, and sadly, our consumption of animal products requires far more of these to produce far less food for people to eat. Especially when compared to eating more plant-based foods directly, rather than going through another animal.
Food impacts the lives of workers who we ask to do what most of us would never do, and that is not only killing animals but becoming desensitized to their pain and suffering so they can do their job. It impacts the neighbouring communities of slaughterhouses, it impacts the families that live with slaughterhouse workers, many of whom suffer from PTSD, and substance abuse. Food impacts the lives of people of impoverished communities who have limited access to foods. This is just to name a few. We go into so many interesting stats and figures in The Roadmap, and we’ll have more on this in the blog and podcast soon.
How cool it is when we realize that we have so much power to create a better world, and that that power is right there in front of us, with whatever changes each of us can make. Whether you’re like me and you’ve decided to go vegan and have never looked back, or whether you’re taking this one step at a time finding what you can do right now. Food is powerful, that’s for sure.
Reason #2: Food can shine a light on issues you’re going through that have nothing to do with food
For years while I was struggling with my relationship with food I saw it as my nemesis. Like the one little thing I needed to control that would solve all of my problems. The more I tried to control it, the more it controlled me. One thing I can tell you is that when we resist something and make it the enemy, there is no resolution or bargaining that can take place. It actually took me until recently to see this come full circle and realize why all the bits and pieces of my crazy messy relationship with food were the keys to me finding peace with it. I didn’t have to start with the future me I imagined had it all together. I had to start from where I was right then and there.
My relationship with food and my desire to restrict and then overeat were like my own little alarm system. An alarm system I am now very grateful for, because once I did the work to understand it, I can now see the signs and notice that it all served as a distraction to the pain I really needed to heal. One that had very little to do with food, weight and my body (what I told myself were the culprits), and had a lot to do with things that really needed to be healed. Food and our relationship with food (this can go from feeling we’re powerless over it and we overeat, to the need to add rules and restrict it, to the need to pay for it through over-exercising, to having fears over certain foods), can shine a light on emotional issues and unresolved trauma, and healing these can be the real life changers.
Reason #3: Food is one of the many pleasures of life
This one needs no explanation and yet, in this era of food phobias and clean eating, I feel we need to be reminded of this constantly. Food provides pleasure, and this is important. A healthy relationship with food includes many of the topics we talk about like tuning into our hunger and fulness levels, practicing mindful eating, leaving restriction behind to focus on getting reacquainted with your body’s cues, but this also needs to include the fact that food is a source of joy and pleasure. Never leave this out of the equation. Food for me is triple the pleasure, because I find the greatest joy in teaching others how to cook, I find so much comfort in making meals my family loves to share together, and I feel pleasure in digging into the foods I make, without fear or guilt attached, which always used to be at the table like a hideous salt and pepper shaker someone gave you as a wedding present. Make space for the joy of eating again.
Reason #4: Food gives our bodies the comfort of fulness, and gauging that fulness is a dance that takes some time
After spending over half of my life eating so past fulness I couldn’t move, or so little during the many diets I tried that all I could think about was food, it was the greatest gift to learn that there was this whole space in the middle.
Nothing gives me greater relief now than to notice that after a delicious meal I loved, my belly is comfortably full and so satisfied and happy. This was a dance that took time, and that still takes daily practice for me. It went hand in hand with knowing that the days of restriction were long gone, that food was available to me and that I could enjoy my favorites whenever I wanted.
When that side of me that loves being VERY uncomfortably full rears its little mischievous head from time to time, it helps me to remind her “you can eat this again whenever you want to if you’re already satisfied and comfortably full. Be patient if this is something you’re battling and if you’re striving to improve your relationship with food with your own body leading the way.
Reason #5: Food is a powerful bond, with yourself and with loved ones
The other day my favorite vegan doughnut shop in Madrid (it’s called Delish vegan doughnuts if you’re ever in town!) re-posted a story someone had left them on social media. The person that posted this was saying that going to the doughnut shop has become such a special part of their week. I read this as I was posting a photo of Carlos with the dogs (and me), in our Sunday doughnut breakfast tradition at that very spot. It got me thinking, “if this girl created her doughnut shop thinking it was just a doughnut shop, boy was she in for a big surprise!”. She’s given so much joy and color to the neighbourhood it’s in. People chat in the long lines to make their order, and it has become the place for many family traditions. I’ve heard people in those tables talk about starting a business together, others go with friends to celebrate birthdays, others like us go with our dogs before heading to the park on Sunday mornings. You get the idea, food builds connections, it builds connections within ourselves, and it builds memories with the people we love.
Macros and calories and nutrient densities have nothing on the beautiful power of food, and that is certainly something to be grateful for.
… and on that note…