According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, experience is “the process of doing and seeing things and having things happen to you”. It is also “the direct observation of or participation in events as a basis for knowledge”. Experience is an interactive occurrence.
We affect and are affected by those things that we experience. For example, we can experience ice cream for the first time. We gain experience in a certain career path. We learn communication skills as we interact with others.
All of these experiences collectively transform us. Some people may be greatly inhibited by their experiences, while others may allow their experiences to make them better people. It is this growth and development that we focus on when we speak of positive food experiences.
Positive food experiences are about memories.
They are about happiness, wonder, and amazement. Positive food experiences are about examining your current circumstances and committing to improve. They are about goal setting.
Positive food experiences are holistic in nature.
Although food is the primary subject when we speak of positive food experiences, there are other areas that affect and are affected by our experience. These can be explained by six overarching principles:
- Knowledge Base
These principles are not exclusive in nature. They continually and constantly overlap each other. All six of these principles need not be present in order to have a positive food experience. Even when all of these principles are present, there are usually one or two that dominate the experience.
Although each of these principles will be discussed in greater detail in separate articles, the following is a brief description of each principle:
The principle of food is about what you put into your body for nutrition and sustenance.
What do you eat? Why do eat what you eat? Are you conscious of the ingredients and the manner of preparation of the food you eat? The principle of food is about menu planning and preparation. It is not only about what you put into your body, but how you prepare it. Do you cook meals at home? Do you prefer fast food chains?
Maybe you don’t care too much about food. It doesn’t matter to you what you eat, as long as you eat. Leftovers from the fridge, drive-through restaurants, and brief stops at convenience stores may be the norm for you. After all, you live a busy life and don’t have the time or desire to do food research. You seem to have enough spark and energy to do what you need to do in life.
Maybe you were more food conscious in the past, but have gotten away from that because of a hectic lifestyle or just focusing on other things. Perhaps you pause from time to time to reflect on what food choices you used to make. You may not be sure how you arrived at your present situation, but you long for “the good old days”.
Perhaps you talk extensively with family and friends about their food choices, Perhaps you have become more resolute in making good food choices of your own. It may be that you are reaping the benefits of healthy food choices and are able to recall many positive food experiences in your life.
The principle of people refers to how others influence the food experience.
Do you dine alone (no people involved)? Are you routinely eating from a drive-through on the way to a meeting (the only people you interact with are the servers at the restaurant)? Do you eat a meal as a group (with family, friends, work colleagues, etc.)? What is the level of people contact you have as associated with the meal?
Perhaps you eat alone the majority of the time. You may not be motivated to make what you may call fancy types of food since it is just you who dines. It may be that you long for the meals of your childhood or from other relevant experiences, but you are not motivated enough to want to act on those things because you’re dining alone.
Perhaps you and your spouse both work full time and lead busy lives. Occasionally you may eat together, but many times you need to dine alone or with colleagues.
As a busy stay-at-home mom, you may desire to pass along those food traditions you have. You have been able to balance the need for nutrition as well as accommodating many mouths to feed.
Perhaps you have a combination of many different types of interactions throughout the week. You may dine alone from time to time. Perhaps you have big family gatherings for meals. You may dine with just one or two people, or you may even dine as part of group meetings at work or with other activities.
The principle of environment describes the surroundings and the circumstances in which you eat.
Are you sitting in a local bistro grabbing a quick bite on the way to a meeting or other event? Do you relax at home with your family after a hard days work? Are you at a dinner table? Are you eating at your desk at the office? What is the environmental situation?
You may have a very demanding job which requires you to work 80 hours a week. You often eat at your desk at the office or in the car on the way to a meeting. Grab and go is your motto. While you may cook at home from time to time, those meals need to be travel ready for you to eat on the go.
Perhaps you have been taking care of your aging mother for several years. You may eat the majority of your meals with her to give her some companionship and assistance.
As a member of a large family, there is always plenty of activity in the kitchen. Mealtime involves everyone. Each family member has a role to play in preparing the food, setting the table, and engaging in a few laughs.
As a sports enthusiast, you may have many game night parties where the whole gang gathers around the screen to see the big game. Food may be part of the experience, but may take a back seat as the game rolls along.
The principle of knowledge base refers to your level of culinary skills.
You do not have to be a professional chef in order to cook. There are literally millions of different dishes from the most simple to the most complex. There are those who choose to get by on very simple meals, while others may have a desire to further their knowledge of different cuisines.
What are your culinary skills? Did you learn how to cook from your mom or another family member? Do you make time to cook? Are you adventurous? Are you hesitant to try new things? Do you make time to learn new recipes? Do you take cooking classes or look up cooking techniques on the web? What is your current level of culinary knowledge and desire for further knowledge?
Your parents may not have been around much while you were growing up. Perhaps you mainly ate cereal, packaged foods, or various meals from fast food restaurants. You may be able to only make simple foods at this time, but perhaps you have a desire to expand that knowledge.
As a busy college student, you may have been taught well by your mother to be self-sufficient in the kitchen. Perhaps you have copies of many recipes she used to make while you were growing up that you could replicate. You and your college roommates may get together from time to time and teach each other various culinary skills and share stories about how you learned to cook.
As empty-nesters, you may not have had time for many years to strut your stuff in the kitchen. Now that the kids are gone, you can take time to try new recipes and expand your knowledge. Perhaps you laugh while making a dish, noting the memories it brings back to when your children were growing up.
The principle of interaction is about your relationship and level of interaction with the food.
Are you interacting with the food? Were you involved in the planning and preparation of the meal? Did you personally cook the meal? Did you just order something from a restaurant (low level of interaction)?
You have been looking forward to this night for weeks. Perhaps you were finally able to link up with your old college roommates, and are getting ready to eat a meal together. You scurry from one grocer to another gathering up ingredients, and carefully prepare each dish to make it just right. Your former roommates bring other dishes to make it a big potluck celebration.
As a traveling sales person, you live on the road. Drive through restaurants and convenience stores are your friends. The only interaction you may have with food is actually consuming it.
Your children are finally old enough to appreciate a good meal. Eager to help in the kitchen, they beg you each night to let them assist somehow with the meal. One child may help set the table. Another child may assist in adding ingredients to a recipe for a batch of cookies for dessert.
The principle of motivation is about what you do as a result of the food experience.
It is about evaluating your experiences and setting goals for future food experiences. What happened? Why did it happen? Under what circumstances did it happen? What are your goals for the future based on what happened?
You may have had a wonderful experience cooking in the kitchen with your family. Grandma was there showing everyone how to make the pasta dish that has been a family favorite for generations. Everyone hovered around the cutting board as grandma diced fresh vegetables. Mom peered into the saucepan and laughed as she remembered making this dish as a child.
Maybe a dish you were looking forward to making didn’t quite turn out as you expected. Maybe you hosted a dinner party that night, and ended up a little embarrassed about how poorly the dish came out. After thinking more thoroughly about what happened, you resolved to take a cooking class to develop your techniques to make that dish come out well.
Perhaps your meals typically come via the drive-through of your favorite fast food restaurant. You may feel somewhat hesitant to dive into the culinary world, but you resolve to improve step by step.
All of these sample scenarios involve examining yourself (your own habits, likes and dislikes, memories, skills) and your circumstances (career, schooling, home environment), and setting realistic goals for the future.
My Food Experience Background
An account of my own food experiences may help you understand what we mean by positive food experiences:
As the oldest child of two in a busy family, I grew up on processed food. Bologna, Spam, boxed macaroni and cheese – anything to be speedy and efficient. My father worked as an accountant in a busy CPA firm. He was frequently gone doing taxes or preparing other documents for his clients, or down in his home office preparing documents for his personal clients. My mother was a stay-at-home-mom most of the time, but she also worked part time as we got older.
Sure, we learned about the food groups, which were (at the time) milk, meat, fruit and vegetable, and bread and cereal. We learned about various food topics in health class during grade school. But those were communicated as more of a nice to know type of thing, and not something emphasized while growing up. The emphasis was on something fast and easy, whether it was a bag of chips or spaghetti out of a can. Certainly my parents had good intentions, but other things took precedence over food. Food was more of drudgery than delight.
While we sometimes ate together physically, there was not much conversation. We frequently ate in front of the television or in our rooms. The level of interaction and environment was minimal. Yes, there were a few times during the year on the holidays where my mother pulled out all the stops to create traditional dishes such as noodle kugel, matzo ball soup, and beef brisket, but for most of the year meals were very simple. With this type of background, I also looked outside the home for mealtime examples.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, there were many exercise and diet fads. All of them seemed very short term. After high school graduation, I attended college to become a nutritionist. The idea of working with people of all demographics to help them eat better and have healthier lives intrigued me. Although I changed my major many times before graduation (ending up with a double major of political science and economics), that education in nutrition helped to kick off a search for positive food interactions and experiences.
Friends and extended family members have been great influences on my culinary development. In addition to doing my own research, seeking out positive food experiences from friends and family has instilled in me a greater sense of giving and service. I have also developed a greater sense of awareness of the multitude of foods on the market today, their health benefits, and how to integrate healthy foods into my life. I have also learned the importance of a healthy environment for the eating process.
As a researcher and evaluator myself, I have learned that making mealtime matter is just as important as the foods you eat. Positive food experiences are all-inclusive. They are not just about the food. Nor are they just about the environment. They are not just about the people, or your knowledge base, interactions, or motivations. It’s a combination of all of these factors woven together into a positive food experience.
I am grateful for good parents who let me grow and develop. I am grateful for a loving husband and extended family members who have a love of learning. It is exciting to see all those who seek out positive food experiences in their lives.
Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli once said,
“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.”
This concept of eating well denotes having a positive food experience. It represents a collection of wonderful memories of meals eaten with family, friends, and associates. It comprises a melding of the six principles to form life and vitality.
This is not to say that all positive food experiences are planned events. Once you have the knowledge base for creating positive food experiences, they can be created more spontaneously. Making a special treat for a friend or family member, putting together a picnic lunch, or receiving a surprise birthday party are all examples of spontaneous creation of positive food experiences.
Questions to Consider
Does that mean that every day will be a positive food experience? Hardly. There are some days where you may be rushed, some days where a quick sandwich is all you can get. Based on our schedule, for example, there are some days where I pack leftovers for my husband to eat at the office for dinner instead of having a sit-down meal together.
Those leftovers, however, contain memories of when we first cooked the meal. As my husband eats the leftovers, he remembers the excitement of cooking a new recipe, the laughter as we watched the stewpot simmer, or the joy we felt as we worked together to create the dish. He then shares those experiences with his colleagues at work. The idea is to maximize positive food experiences and to make them your own.
Does every dish need to turn out well in order to have a positive food experience? Definitely not. In fact, having a dish not turn out as planned can actually be part of the experience. For example, I cook about 3-4 times a week, and the rest of the week we eat leftovers. On the days I do prepare a meal, my husband and I get to cook together once or twice. I do the menu planning, and take into account any special requests for certain dishes, ingredients in the kitchen that need to be used up, and tried and true recipes that we have not cooked in awhile. Then I purchase the ingredients. My husband and I both lend our skills as we prepare a meal together.
Sometimes a dish may not be turning out correctly or as we anticipated. There are times when we can make corrections to fix the meal. There are times when we just have to face the music that a dish is not going to turn out well. We evaluate the circumstances that led to the less-than-perfect meal. Were we in a hurry and perhaps forgot to include certain ingredients? Perhaps the ingredients were not prepared as needed? Did we ensure there were notes written down that helped us avoid previous errors?
These are the situations we take into account as we strive to maximize the positive food experiences and learn from both positive and less than positive times. It means to evaluate your present circumstances and set realistic goals for yourself. You probably will not go from having no cooking skills to being a wonderful chef overnight, but you can strive to improve in small increments over time. Take cooking classes. Talk to your friends. Observe instruction. Seek out information over the web. Share your experiences with others.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Consider how your current food experiences affect your life. Evaluate and share those experiences with others. As you do so, your skill set, your attitude, and your life will change for the better.