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The Blessing of Food

AMY GARDNER / February 11, 2011

I’m reading a book by psychologist Wendy Mogel, PhD called ‘The Blessing of a Skinned Knee’.  Drawing from traditional Jewish teachings and years of work as a family therapist she provides readers with strategies for raising compassionate, self-reliant children.  The book is a valuable resource for parents regardless of faith.  I’d like to transcribe the whole chapter I just read called The Blessing of Food but will try to stick to a couple key points.

Mogel talks about how food is given moral weight in our culture (i.e. lowfat foods and thinness are virtuous and junk food and overweight are sinful).  She suggests that tightly held beliefs about food can serve as a replacement for religion.  Since this book was written, numerous others have explored the connection between spirituality and eating.  Other notable books include Geneen Roth’s book ‘Women, Food and God’ and Marianne Williamson’s book ‘A Course in Weight Loss’ which have helped several clients in my practice.

Reflecting on the potential impact of a strictly held food doctrine on children she writes:

“Childhood memories of scents and tastes stand out more vividly than other memories.  I have a feeling that now, much more than a generation ago (book was written in 2001), we tarnish our children’s experiences of food with joyless food theology.  Yes cake is bad for your teeth, packed with calories, and isn’t “growing food” like the virtuous carrot or celery stick.  But the pure pleasure derived from a slice of coconut cake occupies holy ground all its own.  In judaism, there is a place for both nutrition and delight.”

“A place for nutrition and delight”.  How do we strike the balance?  Taking time to appreciate our food or in some cases, allowing ourselves to enjoy it is the first step.  Mogel suggests taking time before meals to say a blessing or to express gratitude.  This practice can help promote moderate, enjoyable eating by establishing mindfulness and connectedness at the table.  Also, studies have shown gratitude increases feelings of joy.  What better way to start a meal that with a good portion of joy?

I’m trying to envision how this might realistically fit into our lives today.  Busy, competing schedules have made leisurely family meals a thing of the past.  I say start with this.  Set aside one meal each week as the “family meal”.  Come up with some rituals.  Take opportunity to enjoy food together when possible.  It’s quality, not quantity of time that makes the difference.