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Mom with a View


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.

March 20, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 14

(11), May 25, 2011 12:56 PM

Nice article

Me too... I like to cook...It's one of my interest.

(10) Rachel, March 24, 2011 11:31 PM

Orthodox "foodie"

I haven't read the article referenced by Ms. Braverman, so maybe there are "foodies" who are also gluttons. But I call myself a foodie because I like to find great, interesting, healthy ingredients and demonstrate that kosher cooking can be interesting and healthy. I credit my family's observance of kashrut as one of the reasons my children eat healthy foods (most of the time) instead of popping into a fast-food restaurant on the way home. My kids both have been trying all kinds of foods -- Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, as well as American and European -- since they went off baby food. Here's to good food, good drink, and good company.

(9) Ronni, March 24, 2011 8:53 PM

Absolutely Agree

I am a "Foodie" myself but lately alot less so, as I've also come to realize that this obsession really has become a religion as you say. To sit and dream about food all day, planning it in your head and obsessing over ingredients is a sickness. At the same time I feel that eating bad food is an absolute crime. I really don't think G-d gave us all these wonderful ingredients so we could serve our families thoughtless oversweetened slop. To me serving a meal should be about showing them your love on a plate. If you can only bother making nice meals for holidays when you usually are showing off for company there's something wrong with your priorities.

(8) SusanE, March 24, 2011 5:06 PM

Food is of extreme importance.

Years ago here in United States the government gave us a chart called the 'food pyramid'. They said If all Americans would eat from this group of foods in specific amounts daily we would all live long healthy lives. Well, how's that working for America? If I were to feed an alligator fruits and berries and whole grains,and set him in Minnesota to live, I almost guarantee he will not do well. Likewise if a tenth generation 25 year year old from Russia was placed in Hawaii and ate coconut milk, fish and poi, I almost guarantee he would also not be doing well. Each culture did well on a specific diet of what is available locally to them. Their ancestors ate those items and it is natural to them. Here in America, we are a huge blending of ethnic groups with most peoples ancestors from several different cultures. My grandparents were Irish, German, Jewish, English, French, Scottish......... so I'm mainly European, and that's what foods my body will do well with. But, America is now so integrated and inter-married with different races and peoples, how do the children of a Mexican and Swedish pairing know what foods will be good for them. Fresh fish, or spicy tortillas? Or a combination? Or something with those nutrients in an altogether different combination of foods. We Americans need to cook, and mix, and experiment with foods constantly to determine what is best for each of us. There is no 'one size fits all' mentality here. Young people need to be educated about who they are and what foods they need. No wonder they have allergies and diseases and eat junk. Their bodies are starving for what should be natural to them.

(7) Michal, March 24, 2011 12:03 PM

Your "sermon" gets on my nervs

If you do not enjoy food because it is delicious, just don't Leave other people in peace, who are delighted about something delightful. Sometimes Hashem gives us beautiful things, just lets it grow for us. He likes it, when we enjoy his gifts and feel so thankful. There is no law: "The more frum, the more "gloomy".

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