This past weekend I had brunch at a great spot in Bushwick called Café Ghia. I had narrowed my decision down to two menu items, and, as I often do (for better or for worse), I asked my server’s opinion. Should I have the seasonal omelet (goat cheese, zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus) with roasted potatoes or their breakfast mofongo (an egg overtop fried plantains)? Both dishes looked good to me, but were very different. The waitress thought about my question for a minute and then said, “Well it depends what you want to do afterwards today.” That wasn’t what I had expected.
I had thought maybe she’d tell me to get the mofongo because it’s more unique–I could find a similar omelet anywhere in the city. Or, perhaps that she would suggest I have the omelet as it’s “seasonal” and likely to change soon. I had even semi-expected her to simply recommend the more expensive dish.
I stared at her for a second, not sure if it was a rhetorical question or if she really wanted me to tell her what I had planned for the rest of my day. Sensing my confusion, she explained that both were really good options, but that the mofongo was a much heavier dish and was likely to “sit in my stomach.” As she told me this, she kind of leaned back and set her hands on her stomach as if to demonstrate just where that mofongo was going to go. Then, putting down her hands, continued to say that if I had a more active day planned I might want to opt for the omelet. My dietitian-to-be brain turned on. The waitress, whether she understood why or not, was completely correct. With the main part of the dish being fried, high-glycemic carbohydrates, the mofongo would be considerably higher in fat and be slower to digest, making me feel kind of sluggish. I ordered the omelette.
The interaction got me thinking: What if we approached all our eating decisions asking, what do I want this food to do for me, or, maybe more importantly, what do I not want this food to do to me? Would we make more nutritious decisions? One of the reasons I love food so much is the culture and experience of eating and cooking, but I think food’s main purpose: to fuel us, can easily get lost within all the rituals and social pressures surrounding it.
As often as we use a machine as a metaphor for the human body, we aren’t machines. Food is more than fuel to us and not considering the many other reasons why we eat isn’t practical. So, I’m not going to tell you not to have dishes that might “sit in your stomach.” I’m not suggesting that you avoid cookies at Christmas or stop making rolls with your mom. And, I’m not saying that you need to stop enjoying a happy hour with your coworkers at the end of a particularly long week.
I am going to remind you, however, that none of these things should be done everyday, let alone every meal. Your default eating habit needs to be one of health. One doughnut because it tastes so. freakin. good. or a few pieces of pizza is fine. Totally fine. But it’s a slippery slope because repeated crap food decisions can lead to the development of chronic health problems–heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, etc.
In fact, one of the main things emphasized in the recently released 2015 dietary guidelines was a shift towards the importance of meal patterns versus specific foods or nutrients. This adjustment in thinking about how we eat is an important one, and has been applauded by many dietitians because it isn’t what you eat one time, it’s what you eat, on average, all the time that matters.
Unfortunately we don’t always have mindful waitresses following us around to help us connect our food choices with the rest of our lives. We have to do it ourselves. So be mindful: What do you want to do after you eat? Me? I want to live healthfully.