In my last post, I talked about my cousin, who simply can’t fathom being as hopelessly obsessed with food and intuitive eating as I am. She has never waxed poetic about the blush on a ripe Seckle pear, or the creamy lushness of a ripe avocado. She doesn’t spend her days questioning the details of food cravings and relationship with eating.
But. In a follow-up email to our conversation around my grandmother’s table in August, she did admit that she had read the Celestine Prophecy, and was inspired by its views on the practice of praying before meals: saying grace isn’t only about thanking a higher being for the gifts of the earth, but also a reminder to center yourself and prepare your body to accept the life force and energy from the food you are about to eat. Even in her stoic resistance to viewing food as anything other than fuel, she gets the deeper meanings.
Food does have energy, more subtle and rare than the actual caloric values that seem so important to us. In the Western world, we judge food based on its quantifiable components: how much protein or vitamin C it has, the number of calories, the amount of fiber. What we call “modern nutrition science” centers solely on these measurable components, and ignores the energetic qualities of food—the ways in which it affects us that can’t be measured, weighed, quantified or viewed under a microscope.
Our ancestors saw it differently; the concept of food having energetic properties that defy measurement has been around for thousands of years. The Medieval “Doctrine of Signatures” sees food as a metaphor, in which the structure or function of a plant or animal reveals its nutritive and healing purposes.
Tomatoes are red and contain four chambers, like the heart. We now know that they are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart disease. The two halves of a walnut look like the two halves of the brain, and they’re rich in omega-3 fats that are essential for brain health. And if you cut a carrot crosswise, the slices resemble the human eye, with a pupil, iris, and lines radiating outward—and they’re rich in beta-carotene, which is important for eye health.
Speaking of eyes, some of you are probably rolling yours now. I know, it sounds kooky and seems like a stretch. But the point is that food is way more than a collection of calories and assorted nutrients.