Fresh produce piled high at a farmers' market.
Fresh produce piled high at a farmers' market. Dan Moore/iStockphoto.com
We've heard it before: most Americans have a pretty big problem with food. We eat too much of it, and a lot of the stuff we eat is junk. It's everywhere we turn, tempting and distracting us. Our overindulgence is even altering our brains.
But Todd Essig, a psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute and a psychiatry professor at New York Medical College, has found a positive spin on what food can do for mental health.
In an article published this week on a Psychology Today blog, Essig makes the case that local food, eaten mindfully, can fundamentally improve your life.
Our tendencies to overeat, and eat junk food "deprive ourselves and our intimates of the many psychological satisfactions and pleasures that can come from eating sustainably," Essig writes.
What we need to do, he says, is "derive as much meaningful gratification as possible from our calories (which is not to be confused with consuming as much food as possible)." And local food seems one path to that kind of feel-good experience.
The case for local food is familiar: it's fresh and seasonal, it supports the local economy, it burns fewer fossil fuels in transportation, and it's more likely to be organic or pesticide-free.
Even Wal-Mart is looking to get in on the action, with its push in 2008 to buy more local food, and its most recent promise to stock more fresh fruits and veggies.
But now Essig is giving us another reason: buying food from local farmers and producers (presumably at a farmer's market) is a way to socialize and make connections. It's also a lovely sensual experience — a place to soak up rich colors, smells and tastes of fresh food.
And the social aspect of eating well is perhaps the most likely way to get psychological benefits from food, Essig suggests.
We know that feeling loved and having a 'good feed' have gone together since infancy. And today, even in the midst of our modern hustle-and-bustle, the intimacy families and friends (and even strangers) can find at the table can provide life with deep warmth and profound pleasure.
Of course, being a locavore is easier said than done. In the depths of winter of the northern latitudes, for example, it's hard to stock a fridge with many local foods beyond root vegetables and hothouse herbs. And we at Shots are loathe to admit that we often scarf our lunches in front of the computer, which doesn't evoke much warmth or pleasure.
But Essig's call for "culinary mindfulness" is one possible guiding tonic to Americans' fraught relationship with food these days.