What I Want vs. What I HAVE

One of the things I love about gardening (and eating in season) is that it shifts your focus from what you WANT to what you HAVE.

potatoes, purple and yellow, dug just before dinner

Instead of saying, “Hmn, what do I feel like eating?”, you say, “What do we have? What’s ripe and ready?” and you build your meal around that. And that–as Barbara Kingsolver suggested in this interview–turns everyday eating into a practice of gratitude.

Rather than starting with what I want, I start with what’s actually here.

beautiful heirloom tomatoes: Riesentraubes, Gold Medals, and Amish Pastes

And that’s a pretty beautiful place to be.

(Though I’m sorta getting tired of fresh tomatoes. Which is fine, because they make good tomato sauce.)

Am I too thin to say “accept your body”?

Last week, I received a comment on the Audrey Hepburn post–in which I urged that one can be beautiful no matter their size–that gave me something to think about. You can read the comment in full on the original post (here), but this snippet sums up the basic point:

“This is a message that is very lovely, but I have to say…you look beautifully thin in all of your pictures. It seems to me that it is somewhat easier to share the epiphany now your figure is closer to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I have already responded, and you can read my response in full, but the question implied in the comment has continued to pester me. Would I be as happy/contented with food and my body if I were NOT thin?

This is what I’ve concluded: that THIN does not = the source of my happiness.

(Not to mention, there are PLENTY of ways in which I fail to meet our culture’s standards of beauty. I do believe I actually WEIGH MORE than Audrey Hepburn ever did–and I’m, what, ten inches shorter than she was?! I’ve even got me some visible attributes–low muscle tone, spotty-lookin’ teeth (the front ones are caps), scoliosis, blue sclera, skin that’s thin and easily bruised–of a bona-fide genetic disorder! My “defects” are in my DNA, people!)

But you know? We all carry marks of our brokenness–whether visible or not.

These days, though, I’m pretty much comfortable and content with my body, scars and bumps and all. I have a healthy relationship with food and I’m reasonably active and things like {food/exercise/my body} don’t take up an inordinate amount of my time or my mental space–my contentment is NOT because I’m a certain size, a certain weight, or a certain level on some index.

Here’s the strange thing: my body hasn’t really EVER changed all that dramatically (you know, except for the pregnancies). Yet ten years ago, this body was a torment to me, and I had no idea how to eat without overdoing it or under-eating or just plain feeling guilty all. the. time.

I was terrified of food, terrified because LIKE ALL NORMAL HEALTHY PEOPLE, I liked food. I thought that indifference to food was ideal, and all interest in food was gluttonous, possibly sinful, and would make me fat. Thing is, it’s kinda hard to avoid eating. So I would eat, but because I felt so disconnected from my body and my appetite, I never could seem to feel contented and satisfied. I was also terrified that I would lose control and eat too much, which happened too, sometimes, because, again, I was so disconnected.

Now here’s an important point. I don’t think that this way of thinking is particular to me or in any way unique. Rather, I think it is a way of thinking that is particular to a consumerist culture. This is not to evade responsibility for my own thoughts and actions, but instead, to put those in a bigger context.


Think of all the ads for weight loss products and programs and gym memberships and everything else. They always carry with them the promise (the lie) that YOU YOU YOU can change your body–that it’s raw material for shaping any way you desire–if only you’ll buy this, do that, have enough control, pray enough, or whatever. And think of food advertising and the general culture surrounding food today: it’s all about having it YOUR way and making things suit YOUR taste and shaping YOUR identity through what you consume (I AM a vegetarian, I AM an organic consumer, a dieter, an overeater, or whatever.)

And think of all the cultural baggage surrounding eating and dieting and thinness. This quote from Harriet Brown, author of Brave Girl Eating, a memoir of her daughter’s anorexia, seems to me particularly true of our culture:

“We…have fallen for the notion that food is a regrettable necessity. As if the ideal, the holy grail we are all working toward, is to do without food altogether—and as if we not only should but could attain this state, were we good enough, determined enough, strong enough. As if that’s what we should want.”

But you know what?

All of this stuff? It’s very ME focused. And THAT–not overeating, not being overly fastidious, and certainly NOT loving food–is the essential definition of gluttony: your stomach gets in the way of loving God and your neighbor.

I no longer see my body as a raw material to be shaped by my own willpower with the help of consumer products–I see it as the handiwork of a wise and wonderful Creator.

And I no longer feel guilty admitting that I LOVE food!–Because I see it as a gift from God and the fruit of rich and complex histories involving both nature and culture.

Am I only able to feel this way because I’m a certain size and shape? I don’t think so. Truly, I no longer buy the lie that only THIN is beautiful. I’ve known too many truly beautiful people who didn’t conform to any standard of beauty in any way.

And I’ve known too well the ugliness–within myself, an ugly self-centeredness–that comes from an obsession with thinness (and looks in general). If God had seen fit to build me big instead of small–or if the years see me growing rounder (which they probably will)–I really hope my message would (will) be just the same:

~Your body is a gift, but who YOU are does not = your body.

~Your beauty does not depend on your looks.

~Food is a gift meant to be eaten–WITH JOY.

{Of course there’s more to my story than this, but I’m saving other parts for other days. Meanwhile, Thank you for your comments. I welcome them eagerly and treasure each one.}


Should healthy living be a spiritual discipline?

An essay at RELEVANT yesterday made some good points: first, that “the obesity battle isn’t an individual responsibility; it’s a community effort,” and, second, that the church can (and should) play a role in shaping America’s food culture for the better. Both of these are very, very true.

this book gives a great history of American Christian diet books

But to my mind, the rest of the essay exemplified a shallowness of thinking about food and eating that has surfaced again and again in the 100+ years since Christians first began linking healthy diets with spiritual health. The typical logic goes like this:

The Bible teaches that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Fat and/or unhealthy bodies are not pleasing temples.

Therefore to be a pleasing temple for the Holy Spirit you should not be fat or unhealthy.

And

Therefore doing what you need to do to not be fat or unhealthy is something that you do for the Holy Spirit’s benefit.

A few things irk me about this kind of thinking (to be clear, I am not singling out the RELEVANT piece; I just see it as representative of many Christian writings and utterances on diet and health). In no particular order:

1. Fat is inevitably made to = SIN!

And it just isn’t necessarily so. Further, even APART from Christian ethics, American culture already demonizes fat and worships thinness. Claiming that people who are overweight are therefore sinful isn’t only unhelpful, it’s also unfair. Body types vary greatly: some people are just plain bigger than others. Some people can’t exercise due to disabilities. Some people have hormonal imbalances that keep them overweight despite their efforts to the contrary.

[Besides, lots of things that Americans love are ‘sins’ that no one seems to get too enraged over. Like loving money! And gossiping. But getting upset over fatness? That’s for people of every faith and no faith.]

2. Eating + Health are not necessarily connected in the ways you might think.

French people eat triple creme cheese, drink loads of coffee with cream and lots of wine, eat tons of white bread baguettes and wouldn’t dream of leaving off the butter–and they are healthier, on the whole, than Americans. We’re tempted to call this the “French Paradox,” but as Michael Pollan points out, it’s probably more accurate to speak of an “American Paradox“–a notably unhealthy people obsessed with the idea of eating healthfully. All our fretting and our reduced-calorie products and skim milk and butter substitutes and egg substitutes and sugar free candies and cleansing diets and nutrition supplements and fitness regimens and food weighing and fad diets and ‘sensible eating plans’ and calorie free sodas have done us no measurable good–in fact, levels of obesity have RISEN along with the availability of diet foods and fitness obsession.

Further, as any good nutritionist will tell you, nutrition is a young science. We can’t even know for sure what an ideally healthful diet looks like–people live and thrive on diets that are as wildly different from one another as can be. Inuit people have traditionally lived on mostly seal meat and fat; indigenous peoples in Guatemala on corn, squash, and beans. Some people live on blood and meat; others on milk and cheese.

Inuit people eating a traditional food--Maktaaq (frozen whale skin and blubber)

We can know this: the typical American diet isn’t it doing anyone much good. But that may be connected to things we don’t usually consider, like WHEN to eat, WITH WHOM, and WHERE. (We’d do better to eat at the table, with others, and at reasonably regular intervals–3x each day.) Plus, “healthy” eating has as much to do with ATTITUDE as anything else–see this post about dietician and therapist Ellyn Satter. I don’t know if she is a person of faith or not, but her way of eating aligns beautifully with the heart of a Biblical theology of food: that we should eat with gratitude and JOY. (It makes you healthier, for real!) which leads me to…

3. The Bible has so much more to say about food BEYOND “eating for health.”

Actually, the Bible says almost nothing about eating for health. (Yes, that includes Daniel’s vegetarian experiment, but that’s a post for another day.)

Food, in the Bible–and in our lives–represents God’s gracious gift. In the beginning, in Eden, God delights to feed the people he has made. A Biblical understanding of food recognizes that food doesn’t come from the store, or from money–it comes from the soil, the sun, and the sustaining, gracious hand of God. Eating it together binds people together in unity and love (see yesterday’s post) and making sure that everyone has enough–feeding the hungry, in other words–is a crucial aspect of “love thy neighbor” and an aspect of what James’ epistle calls “true religion.”

In today’s complicated, globalized world, eating with love for God and love for neighbor means seeking food that is raised in ways that build up and enrich rather than destroy and break down the soil, animals, and people involved in its production, remembering–and seeking to help–those who do not have enough to eat. And it means eating mindfully, with awareness that food is NOT fuel but a gift from God.

James Tissot, French (1836-1902) The Gathering of the Manna

We DON’T need “spiritual” reasons to pursue a “healthy” diet.

We DO need a new food culture, and there’s plenty of wisdom–in the Bible and elsewhere–that’s ready to help us shape one.

Of course, it has to begin where all change begins–with us.

Weekend Eating Reading: Ellyn Satter

…the Saturday post!

Weekend Eating Reading briefly discusses at least one good book that’s somehow related to ‘joyful eating,’ and is, throughout the weekend, updated with links to notable or newsworthy articles on topics relevant (I hope!) to readers of Eat With Joy. Feel free to point out (and link to) others in the comments!

This week I’d like to highlight the work of Ellyn Satter, a dietician and counselor who’s a recognized authority on the issue of “feeding,” particularly when it comes to feeding children and families. However, her model of “eating competence” is also highly relevant to adults. It is based on the twin concepts of permission and discipline–in her words–

“The permission to choose enjoyable food and eat it in satisfying amounts.”

and

“The discipline to have regular and reliable meals and snacks and to pay attention when eating them.”

(Bet that’s not the kind of “discipline” you expected…)

Weight, for Ellyn Satter, is not the big issue: comfort with eating is.

Her diet plan–which is no diet plan at all–looks like this:

  • Context: Take time to eat, and provide yourself with rewarding meals and snacks at regular and reliable times.
  • Attitude: Cultivate positive attitudes about eating and about food. Emphasize providing rather than depriving; seeking food rather than avoiding it.
  • Food acceptance: Enjoy your eating, eat foods you like, and let yourself be comfortable with and relaxed about what you eat. Enjoying eating supports the natural inclination to seek variety, the keystone of healthful food selection.
  • Internal regulation: Pay attention to your sensations of hunger and fullness to determine how much to eat. Go to the table hungry, eat until you feel satisfied, and then stop, knowing another meal or snack is coming soon when you can do it again.

[from Ellyn Satter’s website]

Remarkably, people who follow Ellyn Satter’s “eating competence model”–whether intentionally or by natural inclination–are happier and healthier, according to published research. Her therapeutic model–which is easily accessed in her clear, easy to read books, is as relevant to those who overeat and binge as it is to those who diet and otherwise restrict.

Much of Ellyn Satter’s work focuses on feeding children, and, in particular, on the feeding relationship between parents and children–parents, she says, get to decide the when and what of eating; children, the whether and how much.

My impression from reading Ellyn Satter’s books is that her approach aims to return people to the instinctive joy that most of us have in food. Food is good! Most cultures appreciate that and nurture joyful trust in eating, but ours–for reasons too complicated for this post–doesn’t. However, gratefully and joyfully accepting and enjoying food is, to me, what people are created by God to do. Eating is pleasurable–one of the great pleasures of life “under the sun,” as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it.

In fact, that’s why this site is called “eat with joy”–it takes its name from Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Life’s hard–and one of the delights God has given to us is eating. Our right response, then, is joyful gratitude!

my competent eater

I don’t know if Ellyn Satter is a person of faith or not, but I think her work does a great job of helping us get to that place of joyful gratitude. To my mind, it is a ‘Biblical’ diet.

{You can see Ellyn Satter’s full catalog of books here; you may also be able to find them at your local library.}

The Best Pizza in All the World

Last year I moved back to my native land–the greater (i.e. downstate) NY area–after many, many years away. I’ve lived in Philadelphia, Chicago, California, Scotland, and Germany in the meantime, traveling to Rome and Paris in between. In each place, I longed for a real NY slice.

Before singing the praises of my hometown pizza, I give you the utterly biased and probably unfair generalizations of the pizzas from my travels:

Philadelphia: Renzi’s pizza in Bridesburg is good, but kinda salty and overly tomatoey for my taste.

Chicago: Stuffed crust is interesting, but kinda gross, and Chicago thin crust tastes icky and Bisquicky. Plus, why do they cut it like that? And why no pizza “by the slice”?

California: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the California Pizza. Pineapple? Yum. Fresh Veg.? Yum. But still not quite like home.

Scotland: Can’t tell you how I hate to confirm the (sometimes unfair) “Bad Food Britain” stereotype. But CORN and PRAWNS on a prefabricated crust with bland, corn starch thickened ketchup tasting sauce? Why?

Germany: Joey’s Pizza isn’t fantastic, but it has a major advantage for the expat who speaks German haltingly and has no car–ONLINE BESTELLUNG und LIEFERUNG! (you order it online and they bring it to your door, free!) The best pizza in Germany is probably made by my friend Crystal. (Hi Crystal!)

Rome: I seriously offended some Italians by saying so, but I found Roman pizza seriously disappointing. That could be because NY pizza is more influenced by a Neapolitan slice (or so I’m told), but I don’t know.

Paris: Some may think this is blasphemous, but we actually ordered in Pizza Hut while staying with a lovely friend outside Paris. It took much longer than US Pizza Hut and tasted much better, too. (My son had a broken leg and we were in crisis mode. Pizza is the official food sponsor of Stone family crisis mode.)

The FIRST DAY we were back on native soil, I HAD TO HAVE pizza from La Capricciosa Brick Oven Pizza, right here in Greenport, NY. 

Oh, this pizza! It’s made from scratch, right there where you can see it. Its crust strikes a perfect balance of crispy and chewy, beautifully dimpled beneath just the right amount of a tomato sauce that’s at once tangy and savory. And the cheese: neither too little nor too much, and none of this part-skim stuff. Health food? I think so. It’s REAL FOOD. Nothing prefab. Nothing fake. Made before your eyes by people you can talk to.

(in case there was any doubt about where allegiances ’round here lie…)
The pizza man was all "why you wanna take a picture of my hands?"
playing with cars helps you wait for your pizza--my nephew (kind of) Dante

(note that my sons KNOW how to fold a real NY slice. so proud.)

It’s truly delicious! Even among NY pizzerias, it is king. I haven’t had a better tasting slice ANYwhere in the world.

{Not that I’m biased or given to superlative statements.}

I suspect that we all have some food or foods that just taste RIGHT to us, that make us feel that we’re really at home, and call forth from us spontaneous delight and gratitude.

What’s yours?