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Is Eating a Nasty Habit?

I was recently re-watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“True Q”) in which a young woman finds out that she has the powers of a Q, a race of omnipotent beings. As she’s learning about what she can do, one of the others tells her, “You don’t have to eat, you know. It’s a nasty human habit you could easily do without.”

It reminded me of how someone I was talking to said that he would prefer if food didn’t taste good, so that he could eat only for fuel. Perhaps he, and other people who already think of food only as necessary sustenance, might choose to forgo that “nasty human habit”. But not me.

Consider, for instance, what things might be like if we could do away with the many tastes of food. It might be as Sheri S. Tepper described in Beauty, where the heroine goes to a future in which all nutrients can be provided simply by eating a certain combination of mostly flavorless wafers. As Beauty noted, “It had sustenance in it but no pleasure. I could live on it, but if it were all there was to eat, I thought living might not much be worth it.” (p. 69)

It reminds me that while it’s true that food is fuel, it can also be one of life’s great pleasures. If we eat mindfully, it engages all our senses, providing joy in aroma, sight, taste, feel, and sound. And our satisfaction from food is more than just the nutrients it provides. It comes from everything involved – selection and preparation and sharing with loved ones – which is why we would lose so much if we regard eating simply as a necessary evil.

So while part of me can understand the impulse to do away with food so we’re not tempted to overeat, I am very glad I do not live in that future that Beauty saw, or a world as a Q where it’s a “nasty habit”. I much prefer the approach of eating for nourishment and pleasure, and doing so mindfully enough that I get the utmost satisfaction from taking in only what I need.

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