With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s natural to be thinking about both food and gratitude. But some recent events have made this more personal.
A couple of weeks ago, two friends of mine were unexpectedly in the hospital. And food became problematic for both of them.
One struggled with limited choices. As someone who’s sensitive to gluten, the hospital was good about giving him gluten-free foods – but it severely limited the options. They couldn’t even give him oatmeal, since they couldn’t guarantee that it was gluten-free. His wife brought him some snacks to supplement, and finally after 4 days someone gave him some more options. But he was definitely glad to get back to his normal foods at home.
My other friend had a much more significant issue. She wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything for days because her surgery involved her intestinal tract.
When I visited her almost a week after she’d been in, on a Saturday, one of the first things she said was how ravenous she was. She missed being able to eat and drink desperately.
In fact, she was so upset about it that on Sunday, before she was supposed to have food on Monday, the nurses took pity on her and gave her a treat.
It wasn’t anything fancy, just a sugar-free popsicle. But it made her so happy she cried.
I’ve never been in a position where I’ve been so desperate for food that I cried. But then, I’ve never been in a position like my friend. Thinking about it now reminds me how easy it is to take food for granted. To forget what a gift it is, even very simple foods like popsicles.
All this was also interesting timing because of a plot twist in the last season of the show The Librarians, which I was just finishing watching. For some of the episodes, a character who had previously been immortal became mortal, which meant needing food for the first time. In fact, food was about one of the only things he liked about mortality. He liked it so much that he almost swooned when he sampled all the times at a high tea his friend arranged.
It all gets me wondering, how do we hold onto that kind of appreciation on a more regular basis?
I’m not sure we can get to quite the level of my friend all the time, but here are a few things that help me.
1. Letting yourself experience hunger
In the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, we talk a lot about hunger being the best seasoning. My friend certainly experienced this! After not eating for so long, even the hospital food tasted wonderful.
But this applies to normal hunger, too, not just the I-haven’t-eaten-for-days kind. It’s one of the reasons I like being hungry in the morning, to really enjoy my breakfast and start to the day.
I know this can be challenging for some people, because hunger can also feel scary. But if you can remember that it’s natural, and that it will actually help you enjoy your food, maybe it will feel a little less frightening.
2. Acknowledging food’s origins
It can also help to really think about where the food comes from. This is trickier with things like popsicles or more processed foods, although you could consider it a good challenge.
Personally, I like to channel my 6-year-old nephew for this. He’s very good at asking questions, and wanting to know more and more. So you could experiment with pretending you’re a young child and wanting to know about where food comes from. Then see how far you can go with it.
For example, consider an apple.
Maybe you bought it at the grocery store. Where was it before that? Well, it probably came to the store on a truck.
How did it get on the truck? Someone picked it from an orchard and then put it on the truck to take to the store.
How did the apple get in the orchard? It grew on a tree, after a bee (or something else) pollinated the tree’s flowers.
How did the tree grow? It got energy from the soil and rain and sun.
But where did the tree come from to begin with? It grew from the seed of an apple – an apple just like the one you’re eating.
For me, at least, this helps wake me to the everyday wonder of everything around me. (Note that I took out some of the side questions my nephew might have, like where did the rain come from, and how does the sun give energy to the tree? But you can explore those, too.)
3. Eating mindfully
And finally, eating slowly enough to truly taste the food helps me appreciate it. To chew and savor each bite, focusing on the different textures and flavor combinations. This helps me recognize how delicious it all is – or realize I don’t like it, so I can go on to something else.
Even if you can’t do this all the time, any amount helps.
Food is life
All this boils down to remembering that food is life. It gives us energy, so we can keep doing the things we enjoy – including the act of eating itself.
And if you think about it, this is also what Thanksgiving is all about. Our ancestors needed help finding food so they could live here, and they found that help from those who’d lived here before.
So as we enter this season of giving thanks, maybe think about if you have any foods you’re especially grateful for. If you do, I’d love to know what they are!
And I hope that whatever you end up having, you’re able to find joy and gratitude in your meals on Thanksgiving – and the rest of the year.