Eating. We do it every day. We have to. Our cells, tiny pods of boiling chemical soup that fundamentally constitute us need to be constantly renewed and refueled with new chemicals. That replenishing of the chemical soup is exactly what eating is. That’s what life is. And we do this all the time, gleefully pouring other bits chemical soups into our own chemical soup.
The act of eating has long fascinated and perplexed me. We take another living being (it’s hopefully dead by the time we do this) and turn it into ourselves! We are the combination of all the plants, animals, fungi and bacteria we shove, or allow to be shoved – whatever floats your boat – down our throats. Our bones are made of broccoli, our skin of freshly baked bread and the carbon in our tendons is whisked out of the atmosphere by plants – photosynthesis, another immensely fascinating food-related phenomenon.
So, eating is literally the act of creating oneself – on a molecular, atomic level. I am very conscious of this when I eat. I wonder whether the spoonful of chickpeas and rice I just ate will go into making some of the new knee cartilage I so desperately need. Or perhaps some of it will go to refill the glycogen in my muscles after a hard training session and another part will go to reestablishing chemical balance in my kidneys. I know the science doesn’t necessarily work out like that, but I think it’s fun to think of it this way. My mom always had this fantastic analogy for nutrients: proteins are like the bricks that make up the walls of your house. Carbohydrates are the gasoline that fuels your engine. I have since expanded on this analogy and went on to find all kinds of other analogies for body parts and bodily functions. The analogies are, however, incomplete and I will spare you their naïvety for now.
And as if you needed more arguments as to why eating is such a deeply meaningful activity, there’s one thing that leaves me even more baffled: we share this moment of deep introspection with other people. And we don’t do it by mere chance either – it’s in our blood. Breaking bread is one of the oldest signs of friendship. It has historically been and continues to be one of the fundamental ways we humans show love.
We share meals with people who are important to us, whether it is a cup of coffee on a first date, a grand family dinner or a snack with your buddies.
We need to do it, as the social apes we are, in order to establish deep interpersonal relationships. If you share a meal with a total stranger you immediately create trust and thus a social/emotional bond. And if having stronger social bonds leads to higher chances of survival in nature, it stands to reason that we would be hard-wired to bond to humans who feed us. It makes total sense from an evolutionary perspective.
I have recently experienced this a lot attending Joseph Bartz’s school, where we regularly cook and share meals together, often with total strangers. It’s wonderful how open people become during and after a meal. It’s no wonder any truly important relationship will revolve around the dinning table.
In eating we are exposed, like a machine that needs to be opened up for repairs. We willingly invite others to look into the wires and circuits inside of use, because that’s what food is.
The next time you eat, especially if you are with someone else, I encourage you to bring your attention to this moment of exposure and to reflect upon all the wonderful life taking place there.