Eating The Gap is an initiative of the European Food Information Council; an annual program that brings together some of the world’s best chefs and scientists to address our broken food eco-system, the damage caused to the planet, and how we as individuals and groups can eat better.
In one of the contributions at the 2020 event, held on Nov 16, world-renowned British chef Heston Blumenthal spoke about the impact the food we eat has on our mental and emotional health.
“I believe it is the human beings’ relationship with food that evolves our endocrine and our emotional system. And our brain, our senses: our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch and taste, and sound and smell, are protective mechanisms for the gut,” he said.
“All those trillions of creatures (microbiome) that live in our gut interact with each other. We’re like our own self-contained walking universe, within a walking universe.”
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The desire to understand the impact of food in faith goes back to early generations. In the text Daleel al-Saliheen, an account is relayed of Prophet Yahya (John) who once asked Iblis (the devil), if he had something to lead him astray? To which Iblis replied, “I have nothing but one thing: to eat too much, to drink too much so that you become lazy.”
Food and Emotions
Heston pointed out the relationship between food and our emotions. “Let’s not forget our emotions, because our endocrine system is the very thing that drives us…So our relationship with food is what made us and has made us human beings.”
While there is a practical and functional side to food, as well as a healthy diet side for better nutrition, a part of food is desire, a craving for something. Heston touches upon this idea,
“When I’m eating something, it’s the difference between eating to feel full, or eating to feel fulfilled.”
Similarly, eating something we enjoy makes us fulfilled, and for a person with faith, this makes us grateful to God for blessing us with that thing we enjoy.
Addressing Food Waste
Improving the world’s food eco-system is not to remove the pleasure and enjoyment out of food, it is instead to think about food better.
With a third of all food produced today currently wasted, meaning that there is actually more than sufficient food produced today to feed everyone on the planet. Being food aware is about making better choices.
Heston said, “We should find ways of not starving, milking, killing the planet. If we can find more mouthfuls, with gratitude and fulfillment, by God, that would make a massive difference to the planet.”
While on the one hand, food can be beautiful, on the other, striking the balance between appearance and function is important. Heston adds, “The beauty and complication with food are that, you don’t have to look at a piece of music or art to live. It can be profound and change your life, but you don’t die. If you don’t eat food, eventually, you die.”
Perhaps this is why Prophet Muhammad once said, “Do not kill your hearts with eating or drinking too much, for the heart is like a plant which dies if it is watered too much.” Literally and figuratively.
The Heroes Journey
Heston shared the concept of the Heroes’ Journey, “a model of storytelling created by Joseph Campbell. He had his own company in George Lucas Films. All ‘Star Wars’ films are written with the heroes’ journey.
All Pixar films, the Bible, Homer, the Qur’an, they’re the heroes’ journey. And the reason we resonate with these stories is that every human being is on their own heroes’ journey.”
Indeed, religious texts provide us with historical accounts and experiences, which help us all shape the way we chose to live. For example, one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, Abdullah ibn Abbas was the first Muslim to set up tables on the side of the road so the less fortunate could come and get food to eat.
This tradition, Mawaid al-Rahman (the Tables of the Merciful) remains in parts of the Muslim world, visibility during the month of Ramadan.
There are numerous verses in the Qur’an on food. For example, Allah says in the Qur’an (23:51), “Eat good things and do righteous deeds.”
More interesting for me, however, is the verse in the Qur’an (6:141) which advises the reader to eat food in its season and not to waste food. And the theme of food waste is carried further (5:87) where God again warns people about going to excess with regards to food consumption, a theme also found in (7:31).
If we are to take a lesson from the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad’s example, then it is simply to eat good quality food, in season, to enjoy food, not avoid wasting food, and to distribute food so even those without have something to eat.
And in the 21st century, this is exactly what initiatives such as Eating The Gap with the support of chefs and scientists, is encouraging us to do.