Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Dan Neman

Living to eat has its pluses

I’ve never been very philosophical about food. I eat food. I cook food. I like food. That’s about it.

And then I was reading Laura Calder’s introduction to her terrific cookbook French Taste, and I realized that I actually look at food the same way she does. She just articulates it better.

Ms. Calder is apparently on the Food Network, or was, but I have never seen her. Maybe she is only on in Canada. I had never even heard of her before I picked up the cookbook -- and it probably says something about my philosophy of food that I also sometimes read cookbooks for fun.

Boiled down to its most essential elements, Ms. Calder’s lesson is that she believes in eating good food and enjoying it.

She doesn’t worry about her weight (though to judge by the picture on the cover, she really doesn’t have to). She does not understand why people feel the need to diet -- OK, this part I disagree with -- and thus deprive themselves of a delicious, life-affirming experience. She isn’t tempted by junk food, she writes; she is only interested in natural foods made from scratch.

And by natural, she is quick to add, she does not mean the dust-covered, henna-dyed flax stalks and organic dirt clumps you find at a natural foods store. She means what she calls “the good stuff -- a category in which I include butter, baguette, blue cheese, and blackberry tart.”

Good food is good food, she says, whether it is carrot sticks or chocolate. Those of us with a passion for eating cannot disagree.

And then she lists her six personal guidelines for good eating. Each one is excellent, each one hits home:

As much as possible, buy good, natural ingredients, and cook from scratch. This one, to me, is key. Taking the time and energy to make something yourself, and to make it well, exponentially improves the pleasure of eating. The quality of the ingredients makes a difference, always, and processed foods by their nature decrease the amount of joy. Cooking from scratch gives you an ownership of the meal and the process of making it; it gives you a sense of artistic achievement. Knowing that you cooked what you are eating, that you worked the alchemy to make it right and get it on your plate, can be deeply satisfying.

Never eat alone if you can avoid it. Food is meant to be shared. Its enjoyment is greatly increased when it is eaten with friends -- conviviality improves the appetite. Certainly, it can be hard to avoid eating alone, especially in these busy days. And people who live alone (including Ms. Calder, incidentally) might find few opportunities to dine with others. But it is manifestly worth making the effort, at least on occasion, isn’t it?

The only other activities to engage in while eating are talking (between bites, that is) and drinking. My guess is that she is specifically talking here about watching television while eating. I have certainly been guilty of that, especially in my bachelor years. But watching TV or doing anything else that is not eating-related while one is eating invariably distracts you from the food. Eating is meant to be a pleasure, she suggests. It should receive your full attention.

Always eat sitting down. It isn’t the actual fact that you are standing up and eating your Cheerios over the sink that concerns her. It is what that implies: that your attention is divided, that you are not taking the time to appreciate the food that is in front of you.

Never lay a guilt trip on your appetite. If you are going to eat something, enjoy it. A bowl of mocha-chip ice cream can be an undiluted joy, so don’t ruin it by worrying about how many calories it has and what it is going to do to your figure.

Relish every bite. Good food is meant to be savored, so savor it with all of your might. Never leave yourself out of the experience.

She makes a lot of sense to me. This is a great list of guidelines, and not just about food. With a little philosophical extrapolation, these are also great rules for living.

Contact Daniel Neman at or 419-724-6155.

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