Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 96: Food For Thought

I'm a firm believer in the health-promoting and healing power of food. When we became a totally pharm-free family a few years ago, we first turned to herbs and homeopathy as alternative medicines, which then led me to discover the medicinal properties of foods - many we already had lying around our kitchen.

Nutrition became a passion of mine and a really important tool in approaching our family's health. And as I continue to explore, I'm thrown deeper and deeper into this belief that food is the gateway to maintaining good health and the guard which expels intruders when the gates are compromised.

That said, I'm also a foodie. My passion for nutrition is only trumped by my passion for eating. Thus wining and dining is the way to my heart - which, I suppose, explains my marriage to Mr. Sommelier extraordinaire.

And while the wining came later, the dining has been always been an important piece of life. Maybe because I grew up in a half-Italian family (Mangia, mangia!) or because my mother is such a spectacular cook and took the time to make our meals from scratch every single day.

Maybe it's the enchanting way that food attaches to memory. There are few experiences that simultaneously stimulate all the senses the way good food can, and because of this many of my memories, childhood and beyond, are tied to a meal.

To this day, I can close my eyes and smell the scent of a roast in the oven on Sunday afternoon; it would hit my nose the moment we walked in the door after church, and I'd start salivating in anticipation. I can hear the sizzle of a pan on the stove and see my mom's smile as I ran in from playing at the neighbor's house, where the menu was frozen pizza or mac n' cheese. And I can still taste her homemade chicken soup and feel the crunch of the toast she'd make when I had the flu.

It could also be that mysterious ability food has to connect people. Food touches the soul, opens and relaxes, excites and energizes us. And because of this, communing over a meal, however commonplace it is, is significant. It's no wonder dates usually happen over dinner!

I frequently find myself reminiscing about the many-hour, multi-course meals Nick and I indulged in during the short pre-child phase of our relationship. I remember the way foie gras melted in my mouth as we sipped Sauternes and bore our souls to one another and the flavor explosion of decadent chocolate cake that we tamed with Irish coffees as we planned our future. Feelings come rushing in because they're inexplicably tied to the sensory experience of the food, and I fall in love with him all over again. It's nothing less than magical.

But for each of these beautiful food memories there is an equally significant, yet much less enticing one. For instance, stopping at the doughnut shop to pick out a dozen circles of death on our way home from church and parking under the golden arches for a road-trip Crappy Meal. Then there were the summer "freezies" dripping on my bare toes, dairy queen birthday cakes, pancakes soaked with "syrup," and murky milk from hyper-colored cereal.

It's this death-defying list that defines American childhood food memories, even my own. And since my children won't experience them, I want to make sure I'm consciously providing others. My hope is that the marriage of my competing food passions - nutrition and indulgence - will redefine food memories for my kids in a way that is consistent with our nutritional values.

I want them to love and enjoy food as much as I do, for what it does and how it tastes. I want their experiences to be different, but equal.

I hope they'll attach memories to juicy mangoes popping out of the peel and dripping down their chins instead of chemically-dyed corn syrup leaving their tongues painted blue. Rather than ammonia-treated "beef" and fried, pesticide-coated potatoes in the car, I want them to remember traveling to a farm to meet the cows and farmers who provide their tasty, home-grilled burgers and to the farmer's market where they pick out their own potatoes.

I don't believe food memories have to come at the expense of health. The meals my children eat will be different than most, but I know the experiences will be just as powerful and special to them. When they're old enough to venture out into the world of food on their own, they'll have the opportunity to attach warm fuzzies to whatever evil-knievel combinations they decide to try. But for now, we'll focus on connecting over foods that nourish us, body and soul.

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