Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the Importance of Being Eaters

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating or drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.

I have an eating disorder. Actually, I think we all do. Maybe it was best said by  Lillian Calles Barger in an interview for Mars Hill Audio I listened to recently where she called it "disordered eating." We have taken what is supposed to be not only a necessity, as Voltaire stated, but a beautiful pleasure as well, and have made into, well, here's a couple pictures to get 
you thinking...

I remember a coach I had in high school who talked about her years as a college ball player and how she literally thought about food merely as fuel for the machine that was her body. She was in such a high level of fitness and training that she ate exactly the amount of nutrients and carbs to sustain her body at the level of performance she wanted it at. Sometimes that meant she could get what she needed merely from a power bar and since she dedicated so much time to training and to her sport- a power bar was often all she had time for (hmm... can't really relate much to that scenario).

I  know someone else who desires to lose some pounds and struggles to keep from eating too many sweets. As a result this person finds something that fits the "low fat" calorie count- like fat free microwave popcorn, and eats 10 bags a day. 

We all have some sort of "disordered eating" habits. And by disordered I mean, out of the orderly way we were designed to be in our God-given bodies. Whether it's feeling weary with small children at home and resorting to easy meals full of pre-packaged foods, or coming home to an empty house and eating in front of the TV, or eating in the car on the way to or home from work, we often eat in a way that defies the God-given plan for us to experience our human-ness in it's fullest and most glorious way (I think that way includes Sumatra coffee by the way)

Here's the idea behind it: we were made to live in physical bodies that require physical food, but in the beauty and complexity of that design, we are also affected by how we go about doing that very task of eating. We are not animals. As I'm sure Oprah or some health guru will tell you, our eating habits are closely connected to and tied in with our emotions, our intellect, our psyche and moods and of course our actual physiological well-being. And surprisingly, Oprah did not actually come up with that idea on her own... it's really an age old "Eden concept." Made from the earth, we were made to eat the earth as well. And we were made to eat together.

So, I've been thinking a lot about this whole "way we eat" thing quite a bit recently and there are four areas that are sort of (I hesitate to say goals though that is in fact what they are) some things I want to work towards and maybe they are things you could work towards as well.

Here they are:

1. Eat fresh.
I know it's hard. I know it costs more. I know there are challenges because even when I eat fresh, which is actually quite cheap here in China, I know that what I am eating is actually pumped with who knows how many litres of steroids and is about the furthest thing from "organic" outside of being grown in a laboratory. But back to fresh... it is what we were MADE to eat and we need it! Not only that but the more we eat in delicious, fresh, mouth-watering ways the more we will enjoy the food we were made to be sustained by and to (what a gift!) enjoy to the fullest! Isn't it interesting that so much of celebration in the Biblical tradition is centered around eating. And this is true eschatologically as well. We don't lose our bodies... they are made new, made to enjoy things to the fullest- including food.

2. Eat slowly.
I do not mean to chew your food 20 times or some other crazy diet plan to help you get full before you eat too much. I simply mean that it takes time to make good food, and we need to make the time to do that. I don't know all of what that means, there are probably a million arguments against it for each of our particular lives and schedules. But, if the way we eat is really important, I think the way we prepare for it can be equally so. What we care about, we take pride in. And I think we should care about how we eat, not in a self-consumed diet conscious kind of way, but more in a wanting to eat the way we were ordered (as in designed) to do so: nutritiously, in community with people, enjoying every minute of it. 

3. Eat local.
I'm not a member of the Slow-Food movement. I think it's a great idea but at this point the closest I can get is to buy from my little vegetable man-friend inside our front gate. He's awesome by the way; speaks a tiny tiny bit of English which he likes to practice when I come in, always has a little magic trick to wow the boys with, is cute as a little Chinese button, and I get to see him almost every day. That's what I mean when I say eat local- support your local farmers if you can-- but more importantly, I think you should use the means of getting your food as a way of being a part of the community you've been placed in. And that means getting to know the people who grow or sell you your food. Shop at a farmer's market, or at the very least, try to talk to the man nicely stacking oranges at your local grocery store.

4. Eat together.
To me, this is one of the most important. Maybe you really can't feasibly attempt the other three, but this one you should strive for. I heard something said the other day to the gist of, one of the things that distinguishes us from animals is the way we eat together. We converse, we share, we laugh, we learn, we give and take in conversation. 
People lament the loss of family dinner times and one of the biggest reasons is because that is where the family talked and shared about the day, their lives, the things that mattered in the world. But I don't mean just your family- maybe you don't even have one at this point. Eat with others, including friends or people who need care, or someone you're wanting to get to know. One of the beautiful things about food is that not only is it something we were given as a means to sustain us and to find pleasure in, but also for the purpose of giving to others. The film "Babette's Feast" is one of the most profound pictures of someone literally laying down their life for their friends through the service of a meal. And through this gift a community experiences redemption. You should watch it and then think about how much eating together and preparing food for someone can actually mean! My interview friend, Lillian, said" ...the fact that people eat alone, they eat in front of the television, people eat out of boxes in their cars, eating out of vending machines; this kind of eating is disordered because it is disconnected from a communal nurturance that is needed. People over-eat and under-eat when it is disconnected in this way."

So, I'm going to lay off the food lecture circuit for awhile now. But before I hang my hat I'd like to share one last thing... a recipe. This is my latest favorite bread to make, whole grain hearty goodness. There are probably way better recipes out there but this is one I have that I can actually find ingredients for and tastes pretty good too! Here you go:

Mixed Grain Bread

3.5 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1.5 cups milk
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup cracked wheat
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cooking oil
1.5 tsp. salt
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
Rolled oats

1. In a large mixing bowl combine 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and the yeast; set aside. In a medium saucepan combine milk, water, cracked wheat, cornmeal, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Heat and stir over medium-low heat just until warm. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. using a wooden spoon, stir in whole wheat flour, the 1/2 cup rolled oats, seeds, and as much remaining all-purpose flour as you can.

2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining all-purpose flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 min total). Shape dough into a ball. Place in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (about an hour).

3. Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Cover; let rest 10 minutes Meanwhile, lightly grease two 8x4x2 in loaf pans.

4. Shape dough into loaves by patting or rolling. Place shaped dough halves in prepared pans. Cover; let rise in a warm place until nearly double (about 30 minutes).

5. Brush tops of loaves with water; sprinkle with additional rolled oats. Bake in 375 oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Immediately removed bread from pans. Cool on wire racks.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are. ~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I enjoy food. Who, being in their right mind doesn't? I don't think I enjoy it the way some good food lovers do though. My palate is pretty limited and I came to realize this more acutely when I moved to a country that enjoys food found in an entirely different sphere of acceptable edible-ness. This does not mean I hide away in  my closet, stocking it with foreign imported goods. On the contrary, I've really enjoyed getting to know and actually have grown to love some ethnic foods I had not before been exposed to in my midwestern (and then east coast) upbringing. Like Korean food. Who knew that in moving to China I would actually be far more exposed to Korean cuisine? And Indian. I used to wrinkle my nose at the ceaseless smell of curry filtering out from our neighbors door in the first apartment building we lived in. Now it's my food of choice when we eat out. But all this to say that my palate is still limited, especially when I compare it to the bottomless gullet of my husband and his apparent inability to be grossed out or dislike anything- except canned tuna.

So, the Photo Food Challenge began not because I thought I needed to dislike food, but only because I need to eat it- as most of us would like to- appropriately. That of course means with the proper balance of nutrition and proportion. And even though this has been something I have always been interested in since realizing as a 9th grader that my butt would not get any smaller with the second helping of ice cream after dinner (nowadays I think girls are learning it quite a bit younger- too much younger), I became a little more conscious of it recently when I began to realize the baby weight from #3 was not melting off quite as effortlessly as I'd hoped it would. And for all you naysayers out there (again mom- thanks for reading)... I am currently living on two pairs of jeans that fit me- one with some serious holes creeping into an unacceptable area due to extrene overuse.

Thus began the pursuit to eat a little healthier. And one of the biggest areas for me is battling the nightly craving to stuff myself silly with sweets. I never thought of myself as having  a problem in this area but when I mentioned the fact that I think I might to Josh, he kind of reacted in a way that made me think maybe I'd been in the dark on this issue a little too long.

One recent afternoon as I hopped online to check my email, I noticed a link to something talking about using pictures to help curb your diet. I clicked on it and the Photo Food Challenge was born. The idea is that if you take pictures of everything you eat during the day, it will, a) help you to assess what you actually put in your mouth and, b) maybe urge you to think before eating something you shouldn't. I think if you do it, publishing it on the worldwide web is also a great facilitator of restraint.

So here goes. These are the fine photos taken from my entire eating menu yesterday. If they look strangely like a sorry, amateur attempt at a Martha Steward 10-easy (but really ridiculously hard to make with impossible to find ingredients)-meals-for-the-week photo shoot, that's because they are. I tried to have a little fun but am not expecting a job offer any time soon.

One last thing... though this is all a bit light hearted (and hopefully will help me eat in a way that is good for my heart), my reading of Miroslav Volf's book has gotten me thinking about giving... in every area- even food! So, the next post may get a little philosophical on giving and receiving- in the area of food. I know, exciting. Do try and restrain yourselves. 

Breakfast: the same for me, everyday- toast w/ butter and honey. And the best part, a steaming cup of deep, dark, strong coffee with cream. yummm. 

Lunch: leftover rice and stir-fried green peppers (capsicums for all you Aussies) from the night before. Usually I have a midmorning munch crunch but this particular day I was so busy I uncharacteristically forgot about it. 

Water: I have finally become a water drinker. It doesn't matter how many times I read about how good and necessary it is for our bodies to function... I just think it is boring, boring, boring. But nursing has motivated me and somehow when it's in a bottle it seems so much cooler.

Dinner: Curry with chicken and veggies and, what else? you got it- rice. And some spinach and carrots. One winning point for China is her super cheap fruit and veggies and the fact that all the pre-packaged foods are things I don't recognize and am too nervous to try. 

Evening Snack: Normally I would eat several more brownies than this lonely fellow- but thanks again to the worldwide web, I was able to restrain myself. I'd like to give a shout out to my father-in-law as well for inspiring the "fruit cup" which he created a lovely version of for his nightly snack attack and I have continued to copy. I ate it with a little jello actually but forgot to take a picture before gobbling it down.

The more you eat, the less flavor; The less you eat, the more flavor
-Chinese Proverb

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dependent Living

I woke up this morning with one blissful thought immediately coming to mind- Josh is home. I could smell brewed coffee... no need to get up to a cold apartment and make it myself. I could hear the kids waking up and asking for books to read... no need to crawl out of bed and help them with their "pre" wake up routine of bathroom visits, asking how long until they can come out of their rooms, picking books to put on their beds, etc. I felt that deliciously weightless feeling that comes when the person who shares the load of raising this family with me has once again returned and I am no longer the sole-- well, the sole everything. 

And it wasn't just the help I missed- though sometimes that seems to be the most glaring quality I'm in need of when I have three little ones and only one set of hands. An ironic thought struck me the other day when I was thinking about how you normally tire of someone's company after a certain, "proper" amount of time, but not your mate. I mean, of course most people need time to themselves once in awhile (some more than others), but on the whole you don't find yourself thinking, "okay, it's been a couple months now- we need to spend a weekend away from each other." Now don't go thinking of all the examples you can to trash my ironic thought. I'm saying as gently as possible, without launching into a treatise on marriage, normally

But, back to what I missed. I certainly was missing him when I got home from dinner at a friend's house one evening, thinking it would be a quick-to-bed night because it was late and they'd all played hard. But of course it wasn't. Riley was sobbing about having to go to the bathroom because "it WON'T come!" and he promised me that even if he stood there all night and all the next day, "it would NEVER come!" Meanwhile, Sadie was screaming her head off in bed, clearly overtired and therefore having trouble falling asleep- another thing I find ironic. Ari was peeling off clothes- but only because he wanted to put his basketball jersey on and run a couple sprint sets in our living room before bed- but he couldn't find his "jewsey" because it was being washed. Finally, the issues began resolving. Riley eventually told me he peed in a bush outside our friend's apt. before coming home. Wish he would have mentioned that earlier before I launched into the whole power struggle. I picked Sadie up and rocked her for a minute before her eyes gratefully closed. Ari seemed to get it when I sat his pudgy little naked body down and explained it was pajama-time, not calisthenics-time. Though he needs it. 

I'm off track again. Maybe I really did just miss the help. 

But truly, outside of all those moments when simply another set of arms and another authoritative voice would have been enough, I found myself once again realizing all the things God has so graciously (and I do mean- without merit, giving me what I do not deserve) given me in the husband he has drugged into marrying me. Just kidding. The calming influence, the stimulating conversation, the probing questions, the challenging force, the willingness to think hard and talk when it's scary, the hilarity, the laughs, and so much more... I just don't want to embarrass him.

It's funny how, with all this "dependent" talk- I can, at the same time, want to be thought of as so strong, independent, self-made. I went out to coffee the other day with a new friend and even though beforehand I consciously warned myself against it, I still found myself feeling like a loser afterwards because I felt like I had been a lame conversationalist... possibly even embarrassing. There's the social awkwardness rearing its ugly head again. But, as this "loser" feeling continued to follow me around the rest of the day and into the next, I started trying to uncover what it was that was really bothering me. It became clear that once again I had set out to present myself as this intelligent, wise, and capable mother of three who had not been swallowed up by my children. When I realized I had failed to present this idea of a woman, because I had simply come across as what I am, I was disappointed, and pretty bummed. 

Today I read a quote by Martin Luther in Miroslav Volf's "Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace." They were the last words of a man who had spent his life struggling through and then articulating and fighting for some of the most important truths of the Christian faith. He said, "We are beggars-- that is true." To understand the full context of what he was saying and what Volf was quoting him for- definitely read the book. As I thought about the gratefulness I felt for the return of my husband and all my neediness of him, and the continual struggle I have to be viewed as having little need in the area of intelligence or got-it-togetherness, I was struck by this quote. Beggars before One person. Not self-made, not able to make anything of myself at all, but because of the Person I stand before, this is the "height of human dignity," the very best place I can be.