Principle 1: Food – Achieving the Wow Factor

The food component of positive food experiences involves meal planning, food preparation, cooking, and of course eating. It involves creating a wow factor with your meals.

The food component is the most important of the six principles, but also is often the most challenging depending on your culinary and nutrition knowledge.

The importance of food, both the quantity and quality of such, cannot be overstated. Food affects our entire life and livelihood. What we put into our bodies determines the results we receive. Just as gasoline is necessary to make a car operate, so is food necessary to keep humans operating effectively. No matter what your occupation is or what hobbies you enjoy, food benefits everyone. Consider some of the overall benefits of food:

Food Affects our Physical Health and Stamina

An endurance athlete, for example, usually undertakes a structured dietary regimen based on what goals the athlete wants to achieve (completing a triathlon in a certain amount of time, advancing from running a half marathon to a full marathon, etc.). The athlete carefully considers what foods to consume, when to eat, and how much to eat (serving size, calorie count, etc.) in order to achieve specified goals. To the athlete, food is the fuel necessary to get from Point A to Point B.

Food Affects How We Learn

Recent studies of school breakfast programs , for example, indicate that

“Children and adults who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to improve their memory, concentration, energy, endurance and mood as well as attend school more often. Breakfast consumption is also associated with cognitive abilities such as creativity, reasoning, vocabulary, and problem solving.”

Other meals during the day are just as important.

Food Affects our Emotions

When we eat, our bodies absorb the nutrients. Different diets or eating regimens, for example, may limit the nutrients and electrolytes coming into the body, which affects our emotions and thought processes. Even food acquisition and preparation may affect our emotions. A study on how anxiety, disgust, and negative emotions influence food intake, for example, demonstrated how interaction with food (in this case, dissecting a live trout), influences our emotions about the food and the process we went through to obtain that food, and subsequently influences our desire to eat.

What things about food are important to consider when creating a positive food experience?

Food Choices

Because food affects every aspect of our lives, it is to our advantage to make good food choices. One way we can do this is to become what Henrik Lagerlund terms a philosophical foodie, which is

“To examine one’s own [food] habits and decide to lead a certain life that upholds certain global values, and if truly lived would change not only your life but the world as well.”

As a philosophical foodie, we broaden our value system and food knowledge. Food becomes a means to an end instead of an end in itself. We question our past and current food choices. We try to balance what we want to, can, and should do with regard to food choices in an effort to improve. What resources do we have in order to make good food choices? A recent study on food labeling  notes that the main sources of information about food in general include leaflets, family and friends, the Internet, newspapers, and television. In addition, the study revealed that people are most concerned with GMO
Food label showing how good food choices can create a wow factor in your meal

Access to food labeling information may lead to healthier food behaviors and more positive food experiences.

foods, animal welfare, and the traceability of food, and are more likely to seek out information on these subjects. As access to food labeling information increases, that may likely build interest in food awareness, knowledge, and decision making, and thus lead to healthier food behaviors, overall nutrition, and more positive food experiences. Australian trainers Michelle Bridges and Steve Willis  focus on promoting good habits in health and nutrition. They help people overcome feelings of guilt about food and replace that guilt with knowledge of ingredients and health benefits. Their suggestion is to,

“Just take the initiative to investigate the benefits of certain nutrients, find out where your food comes from and talk to people who approach their own diet in a way you find motivating.”

“It can make you feel good mentally, it can make you feel connected because it’s shared with family and friends, it can make you feel appreciated because it’s part of a celebration or it can have religious meaning or cultural significance.”

Does that mean that we have to give up our little indulgences of sweet or savory treats? Certainly not. Those indulgences also help us connect the food to the experience. We often associate different foods with memories and experiences, whether they be happy or sad. According to a National Institute of Health study, we are more apt to turn to comfort foods when we are happy. Happiness helps us create positive and pleasant memories, and strengthens the association between the food and the experience. Health coach Dr. Amanda Richardson challenges us to Master [our] Relationship with Food by paying attention to what and how we eat. She states that,

“Once you are mindful of your eating and the effects on your body and mind, then you can begin to design a healthier life, to become the master rather than a slave to food.”

Smoothie in a glass with a straw adds a wow factor

By being in tune with our body, we can recognize our biological, psychological, and sociological responses to what we eat.

By being in tune with our body, we can recognize our biological, psychological, and sociological responses to what we eat. We can then adjust our trajectory appropriately and set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, and Time-based) goals for the future.

The Wow Factor

Also critical to making good food choices is achieving what we call the wow factor. Everywhere you go you hear about the expression, wow factor. You often hear phrases such as, “There was no real wow factor to that game!” or  “I read the book, but the real wow factor was in the movie.” or even, “That dance contest had a true wow factor! It was amazing!” What exactly do we mean when we say wow factor?

A wow factor is a unique characteristic of something that makes it stand out from among other selections. From a culinary perspective, a wow factor is a combination of flavors, intensities, and ingredients that create an overall food experience.

When people achieve a wow factor, they do not settle for mediocre foods, common fast foods, or foods made in haste. Instead, they search out the best foods and the best ingredients. They look for foods based on color, texture, nutrition, and overall quality. They search for new ways to prepare traditional dishes, invent their own dishes, and display an excitement that parallels only the finest restaurants. When people achieve a wow factor, they do not feel that good food is only found in restaurants. They feel empowered to cook great dishes themselves. Regardless of individual food budgets, all people can achieve a wow factor with food, and an excitement thereof. All people can find the best food deals. The variance in food budgets does not affect the quality or quantity of food. No one goes hungry at a wow level of cooking. People work within their own level of resources to achieve quality, quantity, and style of food. How are wow factors important to the overall food experience? Wow factors help people have positive food experiences. They can learn about foods, and different combinations thereof, to enlighten the taste buds, and enhance their overall perspective. When people have positive food experiences, they are inspired to eat healthy, cook healthy, and motivate others to do so. Here are some key components of a wow factor to consider when thinking about the food experience:
Wow Factors Possess Dynamic Flavors, Textures, and Personality
A wow factor is not limited to a particular type of cuisine or set of ingredients, but it involves a marriage of flavors, colors, textures, and intensities. Food experiences that have a wow factor have a mixture of distinct flavors. Flavors can be both strong and mild. They can be intense. They can be passionate. Flavors spark your taste buds. The specific flavor is not as important as the presence and prominence of that flavor. Flavor provides personality to the meal. Texture adds to the meal enjoyment, but the flavor is the personality thereof. When creating a positive food experience, it is important to decide what flavor you are aiming for. You may want to ask yourself the following questions: What is the main personality of this meal? What are the side stories that complement and enhance the meal? Similar to a one-on-one conversation, there is a main personality (the main speaker) and there are side stories. The meal should be the same way. One part of the meal should stand out as the main personality. The other parts may be considered side stories that add texture, flavor, and overall interest to the meal.
Wow Factors are Memorable and Experiential
Food experiences that have a wow factor create memories. The food itself makes you stand up and take notice. Food is not just a background event, or something restricted to the sidelines as you live your life; it is the main event. Using layers of seasoning, intense flavors, and a diversity of ingredients, the food takes on a unique identity of its own. It sparks your taste buds. The food creates an adventure for those eating it. The food captures your interest and stimulates the palate. The ingredients and associated cooking techniques are woven together in a unique fashion to create the overall experience.
Wow Factors are Shareable and Inspiring
After creating and experiencing positive food memories for yourself, food experiences that have a wow factor create within you a desire to relate those experiences to others. They motivate you to bring others on the food journey. Just as people love to share information about a new recipe, a good book, or a spellbinding movie, people also love to share food experiences. While some choose to provide play-by-play action of the entire food experience, others may choose to describe an overview of the situation and what they learned from it. Those lessons learned not only benefit the person telling the story, but also all those who hear it. The information may inspire people to try new foods, to learn more about the art and science of cooking, and to set new goals for themselves. How do these factors (food choices and the wow factor) contribute to the food experience? These factors focus your attention on the food. The factors help you to connect with the food. You may connect to a particular meal, for example, because of the flavors or textures. Perhaps you feel a connection to the meal because you are cooking a family recipe. Food sparks conversation and stimulation. The colors, smells, and tastes of food are stimuli that set off the pleasure centers of the brain. You are being mentally stimulated through conversation about the food. You are able to converse about the different flavors and textures of the food. These conversations set off pleasure sensors in the brain in order to contribute to the overall food experience. To have a food experience, whether positive or negative, is really about emotion. You are stirring up conversations and emotions with the food. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Consider your own food situation. What are your attitudes about food? Think about your past experience with food. What was important about mealtime back then, and what is important to you now?

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