When was the last time you set the table? It’s not as common as it used to be, for certain. I can remember growing up we did set the table in the evening, but it became less common over time. This is important, because as formality has declined in our culture, obesity and poor eating habits have risen and I believe there is a connection. Mindless and sloppy eating increases caloric intake, decreases food quality, and lowers the overall standards in the way we approach food.
One major task we have in our efforts to eat healthier is to raise awareness, to raise consciousness, and to elevate the experience of eating back to its due importance. And I’m talking about the whole aspect, from farm to table, and not neglecting the table. Setting the table is a good metaphor for being more aware of what it is we are doing when we eat. It’s not something you would typically think of, but increasing the formality with which we approach food can help us eat better. Setting the table, so to speak, creates more order in the experience. It raises our mindfulness, and that’s important because mindless eating often means poor health.
We get angry, so we eat junk food to feel better. We plan our day poorly, so we’re starving and have nothing to eat at home and so we get fast food instead. After a long day, we reach straight for the bag of chips to feel better. We stuff our face quickly, gorging ourselves, not even taking the time to enjoy eating. We drink to avoid dealing with problems, and the problems never go away. These are all common experiences we have with eating (and drinking).
I’m not recommending that we need to necessarily have a complicated and stuffy type of formality when we eat, but I am recommending slowing down and preparing a meal in a proper way. This slowing down can give us a chance to catch up with other people, enjoy our food, and eat less. We aren’t animals and we don’t have to act like it when we eat, slopping our way quickly through a messy meal. Let’s plan a meal, set the table a bit, and sit down and savor and enjoy it. Let’s take our time.
We are all ritual creatures, there’s no way to escape it. Even though life is much less formal and prescribed than it once was, it is still a series of rituals. We shake hands, we go to work, we put on clothes, we address people in a certain way, we dress the way we dress. The man or woman who “doesn’t care about rituals” even has a ritual – that of not caring about rituals! Even if we have rituals that are doing us harm, they are still rituals. Why not have healthy rituals?
Setting the table needs to make a comeback because it raises our lifestyle to a healthier and higher level. It reinforces the idea that food and eating are important, and that breaking bread is a special form of communion. This has nothing to do with pretense and everything to do with keeping our dignity, sanity, and health. It creates order out of chaos, and chisels out a joyful moment in a day that may or may not have been so joyous. Set the table, serve a healthy meal, and then sit back and enjoy.
Read next: The "Religion of Health"
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