We’ve made it to the final stretch of the “holiday season” (read: the inclusive euphemism for Christmas and New Year’s Eve). Despite my friend’s insistence that, “no one says Merry Christmas in America” (he’s from England where supposedly everyone says Merry Christmas as if they have a tic, and now lives in New York City), the holidays – and particularly Christmas – can literally be felt, regardless of one’s religious beliefs.
This phenomenon holds particularly true with food. No matter that Chanukah celebrations peaked half a month ago – holiday food is ubiquitous. From late November through New Year’s Eve, red-and-green wrapped chocolates seem to pop up out of nowhere. Alcohol, cookies, pie, and heavily salted snacks also take on “how-did-that-get-into-my-hand?” properties. And whether we spend Christmas dinner with friends, or celebrate the “Jewish way” with Chinese food and a movie, holiday foods have a tendency to find their way, often in excess, into our mouths.
During this time of year, I often find myself dancing between indulging in these foods, and worrying about gaining weight. On the one hand, I adore surprise chocolate – in fact I think it might be the best kind of chocolate. On the other, I’m bound up in the worry that I might not fit into my pants after December. I enthusiastically read (and then generally fail to implement) the guides to “avoid holiday weight gain” or “get thin in the New Year” that pop up around the internet. Guilt ensues. I make a few pathetic stabs to stop myself but feel rather helpless until the last Ghiradelli square is gone.
The whole thing can be rather stressful and leaves me craving January when all this “holiday season” business is finally over.
Still, I know there is untapped wisdom to be found around holiday eating – wisdom that goes beyond “avoid the eggnog.” At the Hazon Food Conference this past month, Nati Passow of The Jewish Farm School gave a keynote during which he said:
“I’ve heard the expression, “eat to live, don’t live to eat.” The idea being, don’t just go from one meal to the next always thinking about food. But I believe that as a society, we could use a little more living to eat. We need to give more attention to our food, not less. We need to celebrate real food, not consume it in liquid or energy bar form. We need to take hour long lunches, have meals with friends, bake our own bread, brew our own beer, grow our own corn.”
I think Nati is on to something. Perhaps one answer to the holiday feeding routine lies in a shift of focus towards living to eat, instead of struggling to curb our cravings and feeling guilty when we don’t succeed. This idea might sound counterintuitive at first – doesn’t living to eat lead to eating way too much?
But living to eat as Nati describes it does not mean eating huge amounts of absolutely everything. It means releasing our deep-seated fears and taboos around food. It means focusing our lives and celebrations around healthy, nourishing meals. It means getting involved with our food by growing it or learning to make it from scratch. It means eating more “real food,” – food that fills and sustains us without needing to gorge on it.
The holiday chocolate is not going to go away, nor should it. But my blessing for the rest of this holiday season (and throughout the year), is that instead of fighting with our food, we all discover what it truly means to live to eat.