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The Food Experience

Are you experienced?

Copyright RTP, LLC
Source: Copyright RTP, LLC

“…Are you experienced?

Have you ever been experienced?

Well, I have…” ~ Jimi Hendrix (1967)

Great art, like a great memory is timeless. Almost 50 years ago the incomparable Jimi Hendrix gave us a classic conundrum swaddled in rock ‘n roll. But before we can answer the question, we must define the parameters.

What is the experience?

Or specifically in our case, at the intersection of fork and knife, what is the food experience?

Intuitively, we recognize that the food experience involves eating; but also that there is something significantly more difficult, more ethereal, and more ambiguous to define. It is this unconscious, non-victual serving of the meal that is the living portion of the feast. It, not the food, makes the event authentic.

The presence of company often helps define this moment. But it need not be. It is the environment. The sober reflection of a solitary meal and the veritas in vino can easily mark a milestone or major turning point in life. Just as poignantly, the intimate shared ruminations between you and your significant other are the cornerstones upon which we build the stories of our lives and from which we set forth for action and adventure.

It is that part of ourselves enraptured in the details of the moment that elevates the act from simple passive consumption for sustenance and nutrition into the realm of humanity. It is what gives us meaning. It is why sometimes we simply crave a really good burger with family or friends. It is why we do not wake each day and in robotic fashion seek out daily RDAs, caloric minimums and essential minerals. It is why a sterile approach is always, ultimately, a failure. You cannot have dinner without the diner. It is an interactive process and as fundamental to our perception of the Universe as Schrödinger’s cat. Without our experience of it; there is no Universe. We seek out food because we seek to be experienced.

Our personal health is the result of the interface between our genetics and our environment. Our most intimate interaction with the environment is what we choose to consume each day. Our personal health becomes, to a large extent, a result of our comestible choices…and yet there is more.

How we feel can influence what we seek. When we are unhappy we crave comfort and comfort food. There are dishes for celebration, refections for reflection and a pot-luck for new acquaintance. What we eat determines our gut microbiome which in turn affects our health and how we feel. Our existence is a food-based microcosm of personal physics.

This is the secret world of food.

Slight variations in our DNA make each of us a unique being. But in the rich tapestry that becomes our lives, the events we undergo weave the story one thread, one table and one repast at a time. Central to all is the encounter, but the ones that involve the meal are ultimately among the most vibrant and indelible.

Like all living creatures, we seek to avoid suffering and we seek out that which brings us pleasure. But the avoidance of suffering is a short-term strategy. It is a survival action; and in many instances a reaction. The pleasure principle is our long game. It is in short order, why most endeavors like dieting fail. There is no salvation in deprivation.

In an age that finds us incredibly interconnected and interwoven into a virtual life and existence, one that is depressingly depersonalized and impoverished; we return to our hardwired basic human reflexes. Hundreds of thousands of years ago a small tribe of men, women and children gathered around the fire. There was security, and as the first chefs sizzled meats and griddled cakes there was sustenance; there was life. And from this humble beginning sprang humanity.

A recent leading food magazine asked on the cover, “When did we all become so food obsessed?” The answer is that we have always been food obsessed for that is the wellspring from whence we came. It is only with the disconnection and isolation that is the price for our interwoven social fabric; a heretofore unseen complex constructed out of technological marvels, that we are stripped to our core. Like a spider on the web, we can feel the pulse of the world around us and respond in kind without ever leaving the security of our own making. But we were not made to swing alone.

This is the connection between the personal and the plate, the plate and the planet, and ultimately between each other; between you and I. We share the soil in which we grow our roots. And a singular meal crafted with integrity and purpose can strengthen the human bond between us as no tweet or chat room can. This simple but remarkable fact is the secret of food and the power of the meal.

Thousands of years ago Socrates boldly observed that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” What must be examined are the individual acts, the experiences, that when strung together is your personal history, your movie. Is it Oscar worthy?

But the shadows that linger behind us can be difficult to see, let alone examine. And perhaps that is why at the end of days I’ve yet to hear patients long for another house, or another car or any stuff. Neither do I hear them wistfully pine for more hours spent at work behind the desk. What is recalled, recounted and rejoiced upon are the experiences; the simple meals shared and times enjoyed.

The saddest passings I have had to endure have been those with the richest tables, the fullest larders and most expensive plates. But it was a table set for one. A shared meal is a shared experience and a rare opportunity to compare notes and offer observation, guidance and solace on equal footing. In such a setting, we are all cavemen around the fire.

Such a happening allows us to emerge from the dark times. Only in the bright light of the revealing noonday sun do we cast no shadow. Take some time, share a meal; become experienced.