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Do We Need Dessert?

Note: For more information about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, visit, or my website.

Last week’s episode of Chopped featured four women who were pastry chefs. One of them, Chef Tracy, commented that pastry chefs often aren’t taken seriously because people “don’t need dessert” in their lives. She did clarify that even if it’s not needed, dessert brings “joy and happiness.”

Which makes for an interesting question. Do we need dessert? Or to put it another way, do we need joy and happiness?

I recognize that dessert does not necessarily bring happiness to everyone. It can be a source of angst at times, and despair, for those who feel out of control around sweet foods.

I also know that some people aren’t particularly food focused, that they view it only as fuel necessary to survive. (I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this concept, but it’s probably equally as hard for those people to understand that food means a lot more to some others.)

Considered purely as a matter of sustenance, of course we don’t need dessert. We can get whatever nutrients and fuel we need from other foods.

Then again, if we think of food only as fuel, we don’t strictly need a lot of the things we eat, including non-dessert foods. Mac and cheese? Mashed potatoes? Pizza? Lobster? Or how about any fancy dinner, where the meal comes in multiple courses and is presented in a beautiful way? Our bodies would get by on fairly simple fare, and yet many of us don’t choose that, at least not all the time.

Which brings us back to the question of joy and happiness, and for me, the difference between survival and living. For survival, we may not need happiness. But to truly live, I believe we do.

This doesn’t mean enjoyment has to come from dessert, but for many of us, it can be a source of great pleasure and delight. From that perspective, it is, in a way, necessary. It makes me think of the phrase (and song) “bread and roses,” with its reminder that we need more than the bare requirements of subsistence.

As we like to say in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, it comes down to balance – balancing food for nourishment with food for enjoyment. They can both fit, and to me, both are necessary. Which is why I will continue to look for joy in my life, including with dessert.

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