We had our monthly winter salon here yesterday. I woke up to an unexpected white-out, but at 2 p.m. the sun came out and nine of us sat in front of the stove to hear an herbalist/nutrionist/healer talk about that hallowed rite of spring: the fast.
I was left full of admiration for those who, our speaker among them, can go for a week or ten days with no food, only water. But where fasting is concerned, my admiration comes easily–I\’m impressed by a juice fast, a brown-rice fast, a green-veggies fast, or a mere day-long fast.
If I ever go on a fast, of whatever kind, I\’m going to need all the help I can get. I envision a retreat in a monastery, elegant and Shaker-like, where, clad in robes of unbleached organic cotton, my fellow fasters and I would take meditative walks, maybe do a bit of chanting, and be protected from the sight and smell of all things edible.
One thing our speaker said made a particular impression on me: the importance of chewing food slowly and thoroughly. I was familiar with the concept in the context of weight loss: if you eat slowly, your stomach has a chance to send satiety signals to your brain, which enables you to stop eating sooner. But our speaker went more deeply into the effects of chewing. Digestion begins in the mouth, with salivary enzymes, so that when the food reaches the stomach it is more thoroughly and easily assimilated. Plus there is something about the act of mastication that stimulates the production of endorphins, so that not only do you feel full, but you feel cheerful, too.
My mother was an enthusiastic proponent of thorough chewing. \”Chew it well!\” she would admonish as she filled my plate with paella. She probably got that way as a result of watching me, from the age of four weeks, bolt down my food.
As a newborn, I cried non stop. My mother was having difficulties nursing me, and it wasn\’t until my veterinarian grandfather came to visit when I was a month old, picked me up and declared me seriously underweight that things took a turn for the better. I was put on a diet of semi-solid pablum, which was fed to me with a spoon. Or rather, two spoons, by two people.
I\’ve been told that I was so ferociously hungry that, in the time it took to refill the spoon, I would fly into a rage, choke, and throw up. My mother had to recruit one of her sisters as assistant feeder, so that the gruel could flow into my mouth without interruption.
I\’m not sure whether my early relationship with food is responsible for my bad chewing habits, but I have never been a thorough chewer, and my stomach has had to deal with improperly processed contributions on a daily basis for decades. But that is about to change. It\’s not the promise of a slimmer, better-nourished me that has converted me to thorough chewing. It\’s the promise of cheerfulness. Forget slim, forget healthy–I\’ll do anything for joie de vivre.
All day long today I\’ve been taking tiny bites of food and chewing each one about a million times. In fact, as I write, I have a peanut in my mouth. I have been chewing that same peanut for the last four paragraphs…and my mood is excellent.