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Principle 2: People – The Pulse of the Food Experience

Why are people such an important part of the positive food experience?

People motivate each other. They encourage each other. People are influences on each other – positive or negative. They share in the discovery of food together.

We are always gabbing about discovering new ingredients, learning new recipes, and uncovering new research studies about the effects of food on the body. We love to chat about a good meal (“Have you tasted Mrs. Robinson’s beef stew? The meat just melts in your mouth!” or “You should try that new restaurant on 5th Avenue. Their pasta is the best!”).

People are a sounding board for communication and discussion about our thoughts, ideas, frustrations, and dreams.

We each bring our unique insight into the situation. While someone may be in despair as a result of a negative food experience, someone else may step in to offer insight, guidance, advice, and direction to inspire that person to want to be better, to move forward, and to try new things.

Eating Habits

An interesting statistic according to the 2016 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation showed that one third of all Americans on an average day spend 15 minutes or less eating dinner. How is that possible? One reason is that more people are eating fast food or prepared/processed foods. More people are also eating in front of their TV, computer, or other electronic device. Doing so may contribute to the development of adverse health conditions.

In fact, a recent Harvard medical study, for example, determined that multitasking while eating, known as distracted eating, may lead to weight gain, eating disorders, or other health issues. Due to multitasking, people often do not pay attention to the quantity or quality of the food they are consuming. Thus study participants were found to eat more while viewing electronic devices.

Meeting and interacting with others at mealtime may also prevent emotional eating disorders.

Emotional eaters tend to turn to food when something traumatic or stressful enters their life, such as facing conflicting work situations, a negative home environment, or family struggles. Eating during these times, especially foods containing high sugar or high salt content, stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Like a domino effect, emotional eaters may tend to gravitate toward the kitchen more and more often, drowning their sorrows in food. Thus when we come to the table, turn off our devices, and focus on the people and the food, we not only contribute to our own positive food experience, but we also build healthy eating habits to extend the quality and longevity of our lives.

There are several groups of people in our lives. Each group has a different effect on the food experience.

Family

Family is the life and breath of our lives.

Whether we are single, newlyweds, empty nesters, or elderly. Whether we come from a large family, a small one, or some combination thereof, our family has a profound influence on the food we eat: what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat. Family can determine our attitude toward food: whether food is simply background noise, the main event, or somewhere in between. Family can sway us toward or away from our desire for a variety of foods.

In the family, we can pass along recipes from one generation to another.

Whether it’s Grandma’s meat sauce, Aunt Ethel’s butter cookies, or Cousin Jeffrey’s antipasto, we are often eager to experience those hand-me-down recipes for ourselves. There is something about family recipes, regardless of how long those recipes have been in the family, that bring about a sense of mystery, excitement, and awe. It is as though we have been given a precious gem to behold and cherish. Not only do we have the recipe itself, but also we often have the story behind the recipe. Did grandma create a recipe simply using what was available in the refrigerator? Was the recipe created to feed a crowd or address food preferences? Was there a celebration or other event going on that prompted the creation of the recipe?

The family can be a testing ground for new recipes, new cuisines, and alternative eating habits.

If we see a recipe in a magazine that sounds interesting, for example, we may want to test it out on the family first in order to get reactions from picky eaters, those with food allergies, or those with restricted diets (gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.). Family members are often more forthcoming with feedback, and can provide valuable information to help us decide whether to keep, adjust, or discard a recipe.

Hands making dumplings showing how we can test new recipes within our family

The family can be a testing ground for new recipes, new cuisines, and alternative eating habits.

The family can act as a guide to help us resolve food dilemmas.

For example, recently a recipe didn’t turn out quite right. Upon further examination, I realized I had forgotten a couple of ingredients. I had also not performed the right techniques needed for that recipe. It was frustrating at the end of the cooking process. I complained throughout the meal about how bad the recipe was. My husband, on the other hand, took a more positive approach. He looked at the situation. We reviewed the recipe together, and realized that I had forgotten some ingredients. Then we refined our techniques. We were able to shed new light on the situation. The problem was not as bad as we thought.

Friends

When it comes to food and food experiences, friends can lead the way into new realms or restrict us with cuisine limitations. Like family, friends can be the testing ground for recipes. They can also help us solve a problem with a recipe or technique.

There’s a saying that goes “choose your friends wisely”. The friends you choose largely determine what direction you take in life.  The same is true in terms of food experiences. We can maximize and optimize our situation to bring about positive food experiences.

Say you are hosting a birthday celebration for one of your friends. You select a beautiful pavilion overlooking the lake to have the event. Then you decorate the pavilion with the person’s favorite colors, styles, and overall décor. You put together some fun get-to-know-you games for everyone to relax and socialize. Next comes the food. You and your other friends anxiously collaborate to prepare the person’s favorite dishes. Much laughter and many suggestions fill the room with ideas of how to prepare those dishes “just right”. Collaboration, sharing, and working toward a goal (in this case, food for the birthday celebration) become the focus. Friends lend their talents to facilitate the food experience.

Colleagues

Recipe to show how things from our childhood can drive us toward positive food experiences

Recreating recipes from your childhood can drive us toward positive food experiences.

Collaboration on a team project or business meeting is not the only thing that colleagues work on together. Organizing luncheons, socials, celebrations, and “working” meals are what some colleagues do best. New employees bring their experiences from prior employers of what works best for a group meal. They are also eager to learn the ropes in their new corporate culture. Seasoned employees may already be familiar with the food tastes of several of their colleagues and what may be best from a logistical and culinary perspective.

Other

Even those who are not family members, friends, or colleagues can influence our food habits, choices, interactions, and motivations. Associates at your local grocery store can help you make healthy, fun food selections. Restaurant chefs seek to impress you with a variety of flavors, textures, and food techniques. Even fellow shoppers will often share their views of what makes a good meal, or express their dislike for certain foods.

That’s the power people have with and on each other. Friendships and relationships often determine what we will be, how we will act in various situations, and the direction in which our life heads.  So it is with food experiences. People can help turn our food experiences around to be more positive, more information focused, more motivating to want to do better.

Say you have a large family, for example. Perhaps your family is engaged in many sporting events, music lessons, art classes, and homework from school. Regardless of the hectic schedule that permeates the environment, do your best to encourage everyone to make time to come to the dinner table. You can anticipate an event ahead of time. Perhaps you are cooking someone’s favorite recipe that day. That person may be able to cook and interact with you. Perhaps they were surprised when they came to the table to find their favorite recipe.

Making mealtime matter affects everyone: from the person who cooks the recipe, to the people who eat it, to the conversation that the food generates. All of those things contribute to positive food experiences. Even if (or when) you are rushed on any given day (or like many of us, you are rushed on most days). Perhaps you barely have time to get food on the table, much less have that meal be something stellar. Going the extra mile to make even small changes at the dinner table can make a big difference.

Make time to cook with other people.

If you are pressed for time, share the load with others. Perhaps your spouse, children, or other family members can assist in the kitchen. Building that momentum helps to create positive food experiences. Positive food experiences have a lot to do with who you associate with and how you interact with others in the mealtime process. If you are used to eating alone – at home, at a restaurant, or even grabbing some takeout to eat at your desk at work, making small changes can also make a big difference. Try making a new recipe and bring some of it to work. Try a new restaurant. Make or buy a favorite meal you enjoy.

Making time for those things, even those little adjustments, can make a big difference. Eat with a colleague, friend, or family member. Reach out to people to create a positive food experience. Perhaps you and a group of colleagues are working late on a project. You can create a positive food experience by bringing in a meal for the group, or going to a local restaurant. Have the food be the focal point of the conversation. Don’t let the food be a background feature, but an integral part of the mealtime. That’s what helps to create positive food experiences. People helping people. We can all help each other.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What person or group of people has had a positive influence on your cooking or eating habits? What lessons have you learned from them? How have you (or will you) implement those lessons into your daily life?

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