The best way that I’ve found for myself to think of food…is to simply call it ‘fuel’ instead. Food is fuel for the organism that your body is. And there is good fuel for functionality…and there is bad. The good fuel is nutrient dense, and usually has multiple functions. Bad fuel contains empty calories. It has no benefit to the biology of the body. It usually does actual harm to the body. It’s a can of soda and Cheetos.
We have become extraordinarily sophisticated in our ability to continue developing new varieties of food. We’ve actually gone too far, and have created many unnecessary foods. This will continue to happen as our technology allows. I find it intriguing for instance, the wide variety of ways that we’ve developed and brought to market cows milk. This isn’t a moral or ethical argument for animals, even though I feel that is important at times too. You could make the same argument for the soybean. This is a consideration and questioning of the reasons behind such vast amounts of varieties. There are milks with all types, flavors, and fat contents. There are yogurts with the same. We also make ice creams with cow milk. And then there are cheeses. So many cheeses. Oh…and butter. I’m sure I’m forgetting some other forms. Must we continue pushing until all manifestations have been attempted? It seems that humans have this determination to technologically explore (maybe exploit) all things to their end. Are we doing that with our own species as well? I hope not.
One way to get the most out of our food and fuel is to get away from the food as ‘filler’ approach, and to get more familiar with a mindful savoring of what we eat. Individuals who see their meal as a task, and as something in the way of what they’re doing, will tend to plow through food…and eat anything to fill them up quickly. It’s a bonus for them if it’s fatty and sugary…as that will satisfy the somewhat ‘shallow’ taste buds, and create that feeling of full quickly.
There is a more deliberate approach to food, that is a never-ending search for subtleties and nuance in flavor, texture, balance, complexity, etc. This actually connects to the cow’s milk thinking…it’s a continual exploration. But there are more effective avenues to explore this pursuit.
If we take wine or coffee or tea for example, we can enter into a world of options for discovery. By starting with awareness and then moving to identification, and possibly documentation, we can find interesting subtleties within the wide variety of flavors. There is even a wide variety of salts now, and this is the area that I’m most interested in at this moment. Anyway, instead of sticking with the same coffee, let’s say…try as many varieties as you can. Identify the different flavors. Pay attention. Even before that, pay close attention to the smells while it brews. Before that, take a whiff of the bag of beans immediately upon opening. Recently, while my coffee was brewing, I picked up a fruity smell of mango or melon. I was surprised, as I never would have guessed I’d pick that up from coffee. And it was a cheap coffee at that! Once you eventually pour yourself a cup, you can smell that. Then, you can sip slow and savor, noticing first the up front taste (those taste buds are near the tip of the tongue), the middle flavor close to when you’re swallowing (middle of the tongue taste buds), and then the duration and quality of the finish (picked up by the taste buds on the back of the tongue). You can even notice different texture qualities, dryness, complexities, and balance of flavors. There’s so much to offer.
Practicing this allows to you encounter more often, the finer things in life. And what’s so great is that it transfers to other foods and drink, and even to other phenomenon within our lives. Through paying close attention to all of the nuance surrounding what we eat, we practice identifying the full breadth of experience. We learn what we like…and what we don’t like. That’s learning about the self. We learn pairings…and what goes with what. That’s interconnectivity. Food has much more to offer than we typically allow.
Notice the nuance…spot the subtleties.
If you’re interested in developing your palate, I highly recommend choosing a particular variety of food or drink (coffee, tea, wine, beer, breads, cheese, etc.)…and tasting as many varieties as possible. What really helps with identification, is some sort of document that you can record information on. I made one of these for wine, and it’s been great. You can score your food, as well as identify labels within those different categories such as flavor, texture, finish, etc. This is for folks who really want to nerd out. It gives that extra boost to your awareness and knowledge within the particular food. And…you have a record to look back to, being able to find which cheese scored a 100 for you and which scored a 47. It’s easy to know which one to bring to the next dinner at your friend’s house.