Are you living to eat or eating to live?
“Fed Up” is the title of B.R. Myers’ piece in this month’s Atlantic magazine. It’s a not-so-subtle attack on those who call themselves “foodies” and build lives and philosophies around eating, frequently to excess.
Rabbi Weinberg used to frequently ask “Are you living to eat or eating to live?”
Whatever the reality of our lives, we all knew the right answer. We are eating to live. Food is a means, not an ends.
That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t taste good. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be presented attractively. The Almighty has given us a rich world and we should enjoy it. But with focus. With discipline. With perspective.
For Shabbos and holidays, the meals should be extra special. We do want our bodies to sigh with pleasure. But only because the goal is to deepen our appreciation of the day and our gratitude to the Creator. It is never about the food alone.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that food is meant to sustain us so that we will have the strength to engage in meaningful pursuits and develop our relationship with the Almighty.
Our forefather, Abraham, used to love to invite guests into his home and serve them a meal. He would use the opportunity to teach them to recognize the source of this nourishment through the saying of blessings. It was never about the food.
Cooking shows are extremely popular these days. Children dream of being celebrity chefs. And the truth is, in comparison to the other programs on TV, cooking shows seem relatively innocuous. Except that they continue to promote a cult of eating (well, not just eating but stuffing yourself!) and of pushing the envelope to eat more and more disgusting items. (No, this is not a cultural prejudice. I’ve notice that before Anthony Bourdain eats something “disgusting” he drinks a lot of alcohol!)
The Atlantic article describes what can only be called orgies of eating, the more the merrier. Besides the physical implications of gluttony, we also have a spiritual imperative not to indulge in overeating, not to let our bodies rule, not to put our appetites on display.
The “foodies” of the world have turned food – the growing, the preparation, the eating – into a philosophy, a religion. They are always searching for the new taste experience, the new way to cook (molecular gastronomy, anyone?), the perfect meal…
Way too much time is spent on satisfying a simple physical need. We are taught that Torah is acquired through bread and water, that too much indulgence distracts us from our purpose and leads us astray.
Full disclosure: yes, I have cooking website. But I like to think (hope?) that it adheres to the goal of creating beautiful meals for our families, particularly for Shabbos and the holidays that will help elevate the experience and heighten the spiritual – and not the other way around. I’m sure you’ll let me know if I get off track!
We don’t need the perfect chocolate chip cookie although people go on treks around the country searching for it. I’m okay without the perfect hamburger, the perfect French onion soup or the perfect flavor of ice cream (well, let me rethink the ice cream!). And I certainly wouldn’t make it my life’s work!
True confessions: I like to cook. I like to eat. I like to try new recipes and present the food nicely. But I don’t really want to spend a lot of time talking about it or obsessing over it (Who has time?).
I think ultimately what is disturbing about “foodies,” particularly as described in this magazine article, is not just the distortion of purpose (living to eat) but the lack of sensitivity about it, the overt display of the body.
Hunger is a physical need and satisfying it in public is socially acceptable. It doesn’t follow that all and any indulgences are therefore appropriate. Body drives should be kept under wraps as much as possible. They should be satisfied quietly, without fanfare.
Enjoy your meal, ask for the recipe, definitely compliment the host and express gratitude – and then move on. There’s so much to do, so many important needs to deal with in this world of ours. I’ll settle for the next-to-perfect chocolate chip cookie.