I remember reading an article written by an English professor at a New York City community college. He was teaching English grammar and composition to a class composed almost entirely of Russian immigrants shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. You’ll probably recall that there were widespread food shortages and even famine back then in what is now Russia. One of the professor’s assignments was a 500-word essay about “Food in New York”. The teacher thought the task would be great fun and would also help his students learn more about their new home. Mostly he expected his newly arrived pupils to make arguments about the best food in New York; to write about their favorite hot dog cart, the best pastrami, a favorite restaurant, a great delicatessen, or perhaps even to debate whether the Borsch at the Russian Tea Room was really like mama Zivago used to make back in Grozny.
When the papers were turned in, the instructor’s perspective changed drastically. Virtually all of the papers marveled, in one way or another, at the mere fact that there was plenty of food. Nobody argued whether donuts were better than bagels. No one found the perfect pepperoni pizza. They used their 500 words to describe happiness and comfort that they drew from the fact that they could go to the store and get a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread any time they wanted. Apparently standing in line for 8 hours to buy a loaf of stale bread takes your mind off of worrying whether the flour in it is authentically stone ground by hand, whether it’s gluten free, or whether it has preservatives. These former Soviets simply and plainly found it astounding that, in this city, the store shelves were never bare.
The good professor was taught that in today’s society, for most people, food is not a means of nutrition. Food is a sign of ethnicity, food is a sign of success, food is a shoulder to cry on, food is art, food is a social event, food is a badge of personality, food is a party or a parade. Food is everything but a commodity consumed to prevent starvation.
If we’re really going to try to develop the practice of only eating when we’re hungry, we’ll have to recognize when we eat because we’re sad, bored, happy, visiting, trying to close the deal, or trying get to know that cute brunette on the third floor a little better. I’m not that hungry, but Jimmy’s parents are coming so I made kolaches – with extra prune filling. Here, have six.
That’s America and we can be proud that abundance is a problem here. Unfortunately, we’re also fat because of it.
Food is not a social event. Actually, food is overrated.
Think about it.Tweet