ColumnCan I have a side of fries with that run?
“Can we get burgers and beer?”
These are words that rarely come out of my mouth. Burgers and beer are a far stretch from kale smoothies and quinoa after all.
But burgers – real burgers – are good. Especially when you’ve worked for them. So after a half-marathon this weekend, my friend Megan and I deemed IPAs and burgers on the outdoor patio at the local brewery a must.
I didn’t opt for the lamb, artichoke and chevre version (there was one), or even the pub specialty, I went for the simplest burger on the menu: beef, lettuce, onions and tomato. No cheese. Just a straight up hamburger. No sea salt, or artisan blue cheese or fried egg or even cured bacon. Just a burger. Remember those?
“This is the best thing I have ever eaten,” I said matter of factly.
Now before everyone freaks out about me eating a burger (Gasp! But there’s gluten!) and fries (Gasp! They’re not even made from sweet potatoes!), let me explain, and keep in mind that when all is said and done, I did come home to some vegan chocolate mousse. Was a regular burger really the best thing I had ever eaten? Certainly not. Are burgers even my favorite food? Far from it. But in that moment it was, because post-half marathon, much like post any kind of physical activity, food, even water, tastes better.
In these situations, we appreciate what we’re eating because our body needs it. Not because something caught our eye on the menu, but because we are giving our body sustenance. How often do we feel this way on a regular day basis? Rarely, and it’s not because we’re not having daily hardcore workouts, it’s simply because we are not eating in balance with what our body needs, and in turn, we lose an appreciation for what’s on the plate in front of us.
We live in a world of convenience, and our eating habits have followed suite. We’re hungry, or we know that we should eat, so we grab the nearest thing we can find, or we stop in at a restaurant and order what sounds good. In half an hour or less we’ve eaten and continue on with our day. Thirty minutes after that and we can’t even remember what we just ate. Not because the meal itself wasn’t memorable, but because we were too busy to pay attention. Not really needing everything we were consuming, we didn’t take the time to appreciate it. Soon we’re complicating dishes, because we’re bored with the original version, unsatisfied with its simplicity.
But good food, both in terms of taste and in terms of health, is often simple food. Ask anyone that trains on a consistent basis, and their diets are rarely complicated affairs. They’re made up of all the things we know we should be eating: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, a kale smoothie here and there. If you eat regular, well portioned meals, you’ll feel the same way: satisfied with less.
Time, stress and a lack of a quality food tradition keep us from doing so. We eat dinner on the go, we don’t take time to sit down with friends and break bread, and we focus more on the individual characteristics of food that we think we need – more protein! more antioxidants! – than taking a holistic approach and eating food for food’s sake.
If we take time to think about what we’re consuming – where it came from, what it is, who prepared it – an ordinary dish quickly turns extraordinary. But when we stop thinking about what we eat, we’re rarely satisfied with simplicity. Instead we need fancy combinations, infusions and condiments that distract us from what we’re really eating.
A simple salad? Not good enough. Where’s the ranch dressing?
Vegetable stir fry? Doesn’t anyone have any teriyaki sauce to add to this?
Basic omelette? Can’t that have a little ham and goat cheese in it? And where are my scallions?
We can’t even assess what is good food and what isn’t because our bodies don’t really even need all that we’re giving them. Overdosing is convenient. We don’t think about what we’re consuming because we don’t have to.
“Seriously is this not the best hamburger you have ever eaten?”
“Yes. It’s why we run Brones.”
Megan was right. Eating happens to be one of the reasons that I and several of my friends run, in fact it’s a regular topic of discussion. Not because it means that we can eat anything (although that is a nice feeling), but because we have a better appreciation for food that we don’t get when we eat just because we have to.
There’s nothing better than a meal after you’ve worked your body. That’s natural, it’s what humans have done for centuries. But most of us don’t do jobs anymore that require physical labor. Instead we live in urban areas, frazzled and neurotic, and after three hours of staring at a computer screen and feeling low on energy, we reward ourselves with a big lunch, probably consuming much more than our body actually needs.
What’s the solution? Reminding ourselves of what good food really is and how much of it we actually need.
Much like eating outdoors helps us to appreciate the simplicity of food so does physical exertion. Some of the best meals I have ever had were after long hikes or runs, with friends around a table sharing the mutual feeling of accomplishment along with a much needed refuel.
We don’t have to commit to intense workouts before each meal, but we can eat in better balance with what our bodies need. Give our body the sustenance that it requires, not because the food is convenient, but because we’re conscious about what we’re taking in.
And plan more workouts that include a good celebratory meal with friends afterwards. Be sure to get the IPA.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.