I love eating cake. I love eating cookies. I love pizza and sweet potato fries too. Lest you be concerned that this personal trainer has totally lost his mind, I’ll also admit that I love eating apples and strawberries, grilled chicken, fresh salad, and guacamole. Why do I list some of the many foods I enjoy? Two reasons: 1) to simply make the point that being healthy doesn’t necessarily mean restricting what you eat, including those foods you love to eat but that you may view as “bad” for you; and 2) now you know my preferences if ever you were to extend me a Shabbat lunch invitation.
In truth, there is another reason why I’m talking about food. Yes, it is important to make exercise meaningful. We don’t just “go through the motions” of getting a decent sweat on; we value our health as a continual gift from Hashem that allows us to serve Him with all the potential with which we’ve been blessed. The other side of the health coin is adequate nutrition. If we understand that keeping fit strengthens the body that houses our precious neshama, so, too, should we value and contemplate what goes into our mouths. This article is about HOW we should eat.
As frum Jews, exercise is much more than repetitive movements with weights, or moving around until you keel over in a puddle of your own perspiration. Eating as a frum Jew means far more than simply shoving food into your mouth.
We recite a bracha before we consume anything, but what goes through your mind at that moment? Perhaps you focus on the words of the blessing? Perhaps you imagine how good the food will taste? Perhaps you consider how expensive the food was to purchase, or the last time you ate such a food? As you eat the food, though, can you truly admit that the experience is meaningful to you spiritually?
I suggest deliberating upon the following questions next time you put anything in your mouth:
Where on the planet does this food/drink come from? How many steps in the production process did it take for the food/drink to get from where it originated to where it now sits in front of you?
Walking into your local grocery in this day and age can be quite a globetrotting experience. In addition to home-grown produce, you can find foods imported from around the globe. In Pathmark, there are honeydew melons from Honduras, pineapples from Costa Rica, tomatoes from Mexico, peaches from Chile, mangoes from Peru, and bananas from Guatemala—and that was just in the fruit and vegetable section! Take a moment to ponder what it took for that produce to end up in your shopping basket; envision the country of origin, the climate, the people, the language, the amazing biodiversity of this remarkable planet. Someone had to grow it, someone had to pick it, someone had to package it, transport it, unpack it, and display it. Quality control, administrative assistants, mechanics, drivers… the list goes on and on, all so you can enjoy that food for mere pennies. Even growing your own fruit or vegetables from your backyard makes you appreciate where your food comes from. Here in the States, as in many affluent countries throughout the developed world, we are truly blessed beyond our imagination.
How many ingredients are included in this food?
Not that I necessarily condone factory-produced foods, but one has to marvel at the scientific wizardry that goes into creating extended shelf-life and synthetic flavor explosions in so many products. More appropriately, foods prepared at home can be constructed with finesse and creativity, because each ingredient is truly a miracle and when orchestrated into one dish, they can be awe-inspiring and incredibly delicious.
How was the food prepared?
How many separate steps went into the preparation of that meal you’re joyfully eating? Did the onions have to be sautéed first? Did the vegetables have to be sliced a certain way? Did the blended ingredients have to reach just the right consistency for the chemistry to work? Did the pasta need to be cooked for just the right amount of time at just the right temperature to be neither too hard nor too soft? Cooking is art and science combined; one variable out of place and the recipe might disintegrate.
How long did it take to prepare the food and who prepared it?
One might ask whether the food was prepared with a pan or a wok, a grater or a knife, an oven or a broiler. But most importantly, was the food prepared with love? Who prepared the food for you? Did your tired wife go to the kitchen after a long day of caring for your house and kids to find the time and energy to rustle up a nutritious home-cooked meal? Did your husband go to the store to pick up those ingredients for you, even though he was tired after working all day in the office and learning for an hour or two at night? Never forget your chef. Never forget your delivery service.
What physical coordination is required to navigate that food into your mouth? How many bodily processes need to occur to process that food correctly and give your body what it needs to survive? What bodily processes occur that allow you to gain pleasure from eating the food?
One would need a library of books to adequately give the human body its due. Rambam commented how to truly know the artist you must study His creations. This is true for every discipline of science. Each of us is a world unto ourselves; each a breathtakingly complex organism, capable of feeding ourselves and separating the nutrients from the waste. We know when we’re hungry, we know when we’re full—some of us are even in control of our nourishment urges. If that wasn’t enough, Hashem beneficently gives us the ability to enjoy our food. We experience it with so many senses, our eyes and nose first, then our lips, our tongue. Each sense is a blessing; each facet of the food—its color, its flavor, its texture, and its aroma, are all remarkable gifts.
Every bite should bring you closer towards Hashem. Every meal, every bracha, every ingredient that touches your tongue should fill your essence with a love for Hashem. True, we shouldn’t live to eat…but nor should we eat to live. Instead, we should eat to love; to love our own bodies, and to love a generous and merciful God who gives us the ability to worship Him in such a tasty and nutritious way on a daily basis.
Chemmie Sokolic is an ACSM-certified Personal Trainer, and owner of Frum & Fit LLC. Chemmie can be reached at [email protected] Visit www.FrumandFit.com or www.Facebook.com/FrumandFit for more information.
By Chemmie Sokolic