For the cook, of course, it would be frustrating to make a meal and then have people pick at it because they’d raided the cookie jar an hour before. On the other hand, truly hungry people would enjoy what was put before them; the cook’s efforts wouldn’t be wasted, and everyone would be satisfied. The diners’ hunger would have intensified their pleasure in the food, acting as a flavoring, a “sauce.”
I could make a case for a whole deeper meaning in the proverb that forms the title of this post. There’s something about waiting for something, having it at the proper time, and refusing to take solace in a substitute that adds to the enjoyment of all good things. But for now I just want to focus on the literal idea that being voluntarily hungry isn’t a bad thing, being hungry at the appropriate time in a land of plenty. There should be a cycle of hunger and satisfaction that occurs as we go through the day. I’ve eaten a good meal; I’m satisfied. Now life moves on to other things. I don’t feel the need to mindlessly chomp on something. As the time for the next meal approaches, I get hungry. Soon the meal is set before me, or I prepare it myself, and I eat and am satisfied. I enjoy what I eat. There’s a cycle: up-down, hungry-satisfied, anticipation-fulfillment.
But it’s perfectly possible here in America to go through a day and never experience real hunger. You snack. You have a stash of candy in your desk drawer. You reach for chips. You drink some horrible sweetened thing out of a can. You have to have that bowl of ice cream before going to bed. All this in addition to your regular meals. You’re always eating on a full stomach, always eating out of habit or because of availability. Food loses its purpose and significance, becoming a form of entertainment or distraction. A good example would be the mindless consumption that takes place at a movie: I am astonished at the huge tubs of popcorn that make their way into the theater. Amazed. And even if all this grazing and gobbling weren’t a health issue, one chief cause (I’m convinced) of our soaring obesity rates, it would still be a profoundly bad idea because it actually removes pleasure from our lives. No one sits and savors every kernel of popcorn as he watches people being dismembered by escaped dinosaurs. (Just to give a recent example here.) And I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t come out of the movie feeling completely stuffed, without having paid all that much attention to the food that did the stuffing.
I’m sitting here writing this after a very nice-but-restrained lunch, a salad of romaine lettuce, leftover chicken, strawberries from the garden, red onion, sliced almonds, and homemade salad dressing. It took very little time for me to throw the meal together, less time (and money) than it would have taken to go to Chick-fil-A. (I love CfA, just to be clear.) I enjoyed the salad very much and could have easily taken it in to work if I had needed to. I’m sucking on the one piece of dark chocolate I allow myself as a treat. Once that’s consumed, the kitchen is closed until dinner.
Is your relationship to food pleasurable, or guilty, or mindless?