“Ahhh! Home Cookin'” – The Benefits of Cooking Your Own Meal
Nourish your physical being and your spiritual being by cooking your own healthy meals. Make food your medicine.
Sitting here smelling the aroma of Indian cuisine spices and anticipating a meal full of healthy nourishment fills my heart with joy and makes my soul soar. With more and more American families eating out, the benefits of that anticipation and aroma therapy, as well as nutrition, are lost. Having practiced natural medicine with a focus on nutrition since 1999, I now have a clearer understanding of how incredibly important eating a meal at home with loved ones is.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Americans now spend 48.9% of their food dollars away from home. This is the highest percentage on record. Thirty years ago, only about 37% of those food dollars were spent away from home. Fifty years ago, that figure was just 25%.
In the 1950’s, the majority of working people either brown bagged their lunch or walked a few blocks to their home kitchen to eat lunch. Today, working people and their families tend to eat not only lunch but also dinner out. Restaurants tend to use higher salt content to make their food more flavorful. Or they add more fat and sugar. And many add all three to keep their clientele returning. That unhealthy balance of addictive foods has contributed to the overweight crisis. More Americans are approaching obese. And sadly, so are their children. With that challenge comes health problems such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease, to name only a few.
Many traditions are marked with food. In my childhood, families gathered around the dinner table to discuss the day and make plans for the future. During the summer, my grandparents would supply us with healthy organic vegetables from their backyard garden. So the food was not only local, it had been tended to by a family member who put great love into the growing of the vegetables. It was not only an economic support but also a family bond. Neighbors grew fruit. As children, we would run from backyard to backyard gathering the bounty while we played kick the can or hide and seek. Socialization was done face to face unlike today as social media dominates our interactions.
Food not only nourishes the body chemically, it also has a connection to our soul. It is, at its basis, energy, gathered from the sun, the soil, and the rain. It focuses mother nature’s energy into a package that we then, having had millennia with which to adapt, are able to digest and utilize. That is the physical energetic aspect. When we ingest food, the smells, the tastes, and the camaraderie blend. The nourishment chemically feeds our cells. The experience of eating and socializing feeds our spirit. So much so, that most ceremonies have a food association. For instance, Spring in the Catholic faith is celebrated with the observance of the resurrection of Christ. In our family, the meal served was pretty much the same from year to year. A baked ham with yams, green beans, mashed potatoes, and jello salad. Many of the matriarchs of the different factions of the family would contribute to the meal by bringing their special dish. It was a tradition that is now a comforting memory. Recently, my girlfriends and I have been getting together, cooking together, and eating a meal to which we all contributed. A haphazard event that is becoming a sort of tradition. Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, educated his viewers about the recipes that honored different traditions. He felt preparing, and then enjoying, those recipes was a way to learn about the culture itself. From these experiences, I feel, we are losing not only nutrition of our bodies but also the connection to our ancestors.
As a practitioner of meridian therapy, I see many people who are in some form of dysfunction and or pain. While using the tools of my trade, I also attempt to educate patients on the value of nutrition. Hippocrates, (460-377 BC) a Greek physician who is often said to be the father of modern medicine, said “let medicine be your food and let food be your medicine”. Food that is properly grown (i.e. organic), lovingly prepared, and mindfully consumed is one of the least expensive and most accessible medicines available.
Be creative. Take the time necessary to prepare meals for yourself. It is the best investment in preventive health care one can make. Use fresh, whole foods. Begin to avoid prepackaged foods that you just pop in the microwave or heat in the oven. Eat at your own dining table more often than you eat out. Breathe deeply the scents from the foods as they cook. Set the table, even if you are eating with yourself. Again, breathe deeply the aroma of the food on your plate. While you consume the feast at hand, breathe deeply and be grateful. In the Asian energetic philosophy, the food energy you consume mixes with the air energy you breathe and makes the vital energy that makes up your being and moves that being.
The environment you eat in brings to the table what the Asian energetic philosophers call Jing. Jing is difficult to translate into Western terms. However, the closest translation is that element that one derives from the appreciation of the energies enveloping oneself (the beauty, warmth, love, theatrics, etc.). So let’s have a little dinner music please. And be mindful of what it is you are consuming. Experience the taste, color, texture, smell, and even sound of the food and its presentation.
Maintaining health is a commitment. Food preparation and enjoyment and in some cases cultivation are the most accessible tools we have to keep ourselves healthy. The connection of family and friends enhances that element of our health maintenance. Being mindful of the moment is living. Eat well. And in the words of the character Spock from the series Star Trek, “live long and prosper”.