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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lifestyle: Is There Pleasure in Effort?

I ran across this article the other day...and of course, as someone who cooks just about every day and enjoys reaping the benefits and rewards, I was very intrigued. I can say with certainty that I enjoy meals that I make and meals that others make, and that I don't really discern any difference between the pleasure of eating whole food that I have prepared from scratch, and whole food that another person prepared for me. What I mean is that...barring a difference in the quality of the food, there's no difference in enjoyment of the meal itself.

However, I can say that when I cook and I make something really delicious, I derive more pleasure from it if it's shared with others. Seeing others enjoy what I've made and receiving compliments makes me feel much more satisfied personally, and how could it not? I'm sure that there is something built into us that makes us more appreciative of the things we've worked very hard to do, and why shouldn't we be? We know how much effort went into that endeavor, and when we look at the results we feel how successful we were, and we admire the results.

But what caught my eye in the article even more than that was the part about obesity.
The basic concept was this; that those who are obese actually derive less satisfaction from the food that they eat. This drives them to eat more, because they have to have more food to derive the same amount of pleasure. I do think that this could be a viable explanation, but I think that it doesn't quite represent the whole story.

There's no doubt that obesity is a complex issue, and that it will require creative thinking and more than one solution to really be helped or treated. People are too diverse and the ever-expanding national waistline can be attributed to a great number of factors. But consider this; if being overweight is generally indicative of a caloric overage, perhaps another significant part of the problem is the fact that we are deriving less pleasure (and nutrition) while still consuming higher calories due to processed and fast foods.

Despite what a million commercials have told you over the course of your lifetime, drinking an icy cold Coke is actually...not that amazing. If you stop drinking soda for a few months and then try it again, you'll see what I mean. And for that lackluster experience, you get stuck with a ton of calories and no lasting satisfaction. Too much soda can be extremely bad for you, and it can make you obese.

A similar phenomenon occurs with fast food. It's advertised all over the place, all the time, but the ingredients are very poor quality, it's calorie and fat content is absurd, and too much of it makes you feel sick. Think of it this way...if a restaurant can sell a beef or chicken entree for one dollar? It can't have much of anything real in it. And if it doesn't rot or get eaten by bugs even when left out in the open air for years....why would you eat it?

So we consume these processed, fake foods on a regular basis because they are cheap, but they don't taste that good and they don't hold much besides empty fat and calories. Eating becomes a utilitarian activity and, at the same time, we consume far too much and end up overweight and unhappy.

Returning the pleasure to our meals isn't just a matter of cooking them ourselves, it's also very much an issue of learning to eat well. And what is eating well? I define it as "eating food that is just as good for you as it is delicious, that was prepared in healthy, environmentally conscious ways and put together in meals that are nutritionally balanced." Our culture often eats whatever is handy with little regard to nutritional content or sustainability...and because of this, we're far more unhealthy than many other developed countries. Its as scary as it is unfortunate, but more than that, it's entirely preventable.

Perhaps meals taste better when you've cooked them...maybe it's just a nice feeling when those sitting around the table are complimenting you, the cook. And maybe, at the end of the day, what matters most is the ingredients and how they were put together. But unless we start focusing on creating delicious, balanced, nutritious meals, our health as a country will continue to decline. Focusing on pleasure and nutrition will not only allow us to find more personal fulfillment in our meals, but will also promote health...and better physical health leads to a better you, inside and out.

-The Calm Cook

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