Food is more than fuel

Food is more than calories and macronutrients that convert to energy and fat.
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Years ago I witnessed a brief reunion between an American man and his Russian grandparents. The man was a classmate of mine, and we had traveled to visit one of the most important sites of the Russian Orthodox Church. His grandparents had traveled from their village to meet him for the Orthodox Easter holiday. They took their grandson aside and gave him a tour of the holy site. They spoke rapidly and nonstop as they walked. At the end of the trip he was the last to board the bus back to St. Petersburg. From our seats we watched as the elderly couple and their grandson parted ways, knowing that it could be the last time they met in person. There in the parking lot the grandparents spoke over each other as he listened patiently. Occasionally they reached up to hold their grandson’s face and kiss his cheeks. They repeatedly crossed themselves in prayer. As they tried to say goodbye the grandmother handed the young man two large plastic grocery bags. Each was heavy with styrofoam takeout containers. It was enough food to fill the lunch order of a construction crew, but the bags were filled with homemade dishes prepared only for him. She had spent hours telling her grandson about their shared cultural and family history, but in some ways words could never be enough. Her grandson boarded the bus with the food she had made him. She and her husband stood in parking lot, praying and crying as our bus pulled away. What food would you prepare for a relative you might never see again? Would it be an Easter feast? The cake you would have baked them every year on their birthday? The pancakes you make every Sunday? What dishes would you ask a deceased family member to prepare for you one last time? Beneath the surface, food is so much more than calories and macronutrients that convert to energy and fat. It is a living piece history and heritage. It binds us together and brings us comfort and joy. Diet culture has a knack for sorting food into the categories “good” and “bad.” White bread is “bad,” brown rice is “good” and superfoods will burn fat, reverse aging and increase metabolism. The drive to purge all “bad” foods from a diet and replace them with “good” ones can actually lead to disordered eating. Orthorexia is characterized as an obsessive drive for “healthful” eating. While it may seem impossible to eat too healthfully, orthorexia can actually result in malnutrition and all of the maladies that come with it. Orthorexia is an extreme condition, but the drive to eat healthfully can still take a toll on people without mental health issues. It can cause people to avoid activities and gatherings that they would otherwise enjoy for fear of the food options. Living under strict food rules strips away food’s beauty and cause mental stress. A basic understanding of nutrition is a useful way to make food choices, but it isn’t the end of the story.  ]]>

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