Small Morsels About Food

As the holiday season gets into full swing, let me share with you three little morsels about food. Make no mistake. Our annual cold-weather consumption season has been reduced to its caloric essence. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Super Bowl, Valentines, St. Patrick’s, and Easter — each has its own gastronomic grammar.

We don’t have to abide by the dietary dictum that defines each day, but we can’t pretend we don’t know them.

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I have a good friend in Chicago who has been following a food regimen that is strict even by Eugene standards. She avoids all starches and sugars, including fruit, and of course she’s gluten-free. I visited her last month and asked, “Have you found restaurants near your home where you can have a pleasurable meal?”

She gave me a more thoughtful answer than I had anticipated. “Nah,” she said, in a surprisingly upbeat tone. “I no longer expect pleasure from eating. I recently bumped into a good thinker about this topic.”

“We expect so much from food these days,” she continued. “It should satisfy us, excite us, intrigue us, define us, unite us. That’s a lot to ask for from food. So no wonder we eat too much. We’re asking food to do things it was never designed to do.”

“But that’s actually good news,” she explained her tone, “because there are other things that are designed to do most of those things for us. Now that I’m not relying on food to meet all those needs, I am getting better at recognizing where and how those needs can get met more efficiently. I hope that means I get more of all those things, but the searching is a pleasure too.”

She started with a “trick or treat” surprise, and ended with an Easter egg hunt. Well done, Andria.

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It’s too bad we don’t have a word that we commonly use for feeling sated. Trying telling a cook the meal was “satisfactory” and see what that gets you. We race ahead to overconsumption because that’s where we have all sorts of good words we can use.

Who’d choose to stop when their hunger has abated, when there are such delicious words waiting over that belly-shaped hill? To be full, stuffed, ready to explode, unable to eat another bite — that’s a sense of accomplishment that animates us all. We say we want to limit our consumption and yet we have no healthy way to talk about that desire in real time.

So we binge and then punish ourselves. Feast and fast. We eat too much, then we eat too little. Whatever pleasure we think others are getting from food, we seem to actively deny any but the briefest of those moments for ourselves.

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We polish our plates when the alternative is right there in front of us. Don’t.

Don’t finish it, at least not right now. Finish it later. Stop and see what’s special about the decreed meals that mark each of these days. Except for the Super Bowl nachos, the foods that fill the festivities are wonderful warmed over. Most are better one day later, between two slices of your favorite bread.

Turkey, ham, roast beef, lamb — without those foods, the Earl of Sandwich would still be a viscount. The other days are celebrated with chocolate, which is likewise famous for its longevity. I see leftovers as proof that the world should go on.

It can sometimes be a challenge to measure the pace and proportion of each related food, so your fridge is simultaneously exhausted of each, but that’s one of those hidden pleasures that Andria has learned she can be hunting for.

We cannot escape certain class-related issues that swirl around consumption, but leftovers are given a pass. If you’re wearing Gucci sunglasses that you found at St Vincent dePaul, it’s an entirely different message you’re sending. No one resents anyone for anything they received as a hand-me-down.

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I hope you enjoyed these three snacks for thought. I could have lengthened any of them into a full-course meal, but I’m hunting for alternatives hidden in plain sight too.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs