“I am a King, I am a Queen, I walk the worlds betwixt and between”
~Andrew Steed (The Sacred Outcast)
This article originally appeared in Psychology Today 17 July, 2020
In ancient lore, crossroads were considered a sacred place. They were a space of liminality; a position in the ethers that is “neither here nor there.” The crossroads are a place of choices; vast potential and tremendous danger. They are where in the course of our lives we find ourselves in the position of the “betwixt and between.”
For many, the effects of the worldwide pandemic have shaken the foundations of the world we thought we knew. That illusion has fallen away like paper walls in a hurricane. Such a forced shift in perspective has left many of us at our own personal crossroads.
Amongst the possibilities we are challenged to reimagine, is our relationship with food. This relationship has always been, and continues to be, a fundamental construct of who we are as both individuals and a people. According to a recent survey conducted during the midst of the ongoing pandemic, 85% of Americans have altered their food habits as a result of the current crisis. Far and away, the most common change (at 60% of respondents) was cooking and eating food at home.
Previously, well over 50% of each food dollar was spent dining out. We let others prepare our food because it was convenient. We let others decide what was delicious by manipulating our food. We let others dictate through guideline and regulation what was nutritious and wholesome according to their own agendas. That time has ended.
We stand at the crossroads to reassess our personal relationship with what we choose to eat, with how we choose to eat, with whom and where we choose to eat. In essence, we stand in the betwixt and between with an opportunity to reestablish our own personal relationship with our food experience.
The Age of Enlightenment began in the 17th century and ushered in the use of reason and the scientific method. The scientific method as we continue to use it today demands the use of unbiased and objective data; as it should. This is the underpinning for the evidence-based approach we use in modern medicine and many other scientific disciplines. It forms the basis for the evidence-based approach that is integral to the study of Culinary Medicine, as we teach it at the University of Montana.
But in our zeal to categorize and catalog, to value only that which can be objectively quantified; we may have overreached and thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The scientific method as we described requires that the observer become completely removed, completely outside, what is being observed. This is essential to eliminate the subjective prejudice known as observer bias from affecting the results. In other words the observer, consciously or unconsciously, skews the observations in favor of that which he or she prefers as the outcome.
However, as we have learned from theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, this is not how the Universe works. We do not live in a universe of disconnected objects; we live in a universe of relationships. As the theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli concluded, “all events of a system occur in relation to another system.” In point of fact, you are part of the universe you perceive and the two cannot be disentangled.
There is no isolated observer outside of this universe or any other. You make the universe as much as the universe makes you. Moreover, the universe of which we are part is characterized by indeterminacy. Within the fabric of its construction, the universe weaves uncertainty.
Fundamentally, the processes that drive the engine of creation can never be predicted unequivocally, but only probabilistically. Even within the discipline of mathematics, often referred to as the Language of The Universe, there is uncertainty. As reflected in his theorem of incompleteness, Kurt Gödel demonstrated that within the datasets of mathematics there are statements that can never be proved. At its core, built into the very Language of the Universe, is a degree of Uncertainty.
As human beings, we understand and accept that uncertainty, that inherent subjectivity, as an everyday reality. Study after study has reaffirmed long-term survival benefit of those involved in strong, supportive relationships versus those without. In medical terms, love is potent medicine. Love has measurable beneficial effects. But love itself is nigh impossible to quantify. And if we cannot categorize, quantify, objectify, and measure out (e.g., commercially distribute); then we tend to dismiss it.
When we are happy and eat delicious food surrounded by those we love, there are measurable physiological effects that are independent of the comestibles consumed. We are just beginning to understand how some of this is mediated not only through the mind (not brain)-gut interaction, but also through our relationship with our own, unique gut microbiome (our personal collection of trillions of bacteria that call us home).
Over roughly the last 100 years we’ve increasingly disconnected ourselves from our food and our food pathways. We have severed ourselves from our relationship with the food experience. It is in part why so many of the methods and maze of recommendations over the last half-century based exclusively on boxes and numbers has so epically failed. We focus on numbers of calories when in truth it has nothing to do with the value of the food we eat. We palate profile with broad categories of foods like ‘red meats’ that are meaningless. It is the individual character, the quality, of the food that matters. We alter the food we produce without full comprehension of the long-term effects.
Is it a consequence of ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care. What is important, is where we find ourselves in the choices we make going forward. The recent worldwide upheaval has placed each of us at our own personal crossroads, face-to-face with our own relationships. For many, the decision to unthinkingly carry on the same path that brought them here is not an option.
But there is an opportunity.
There is an opportunity to rework our most basic relationship. Our relationship with the food we eat. The food experience that forms the groundwork for our individual health and wellness; or sets the stage for individual disability and disease. The food experience that collectively reflects us as a society, a culture, and ultimately a species. The food experience that is a template for relationships with each other and ultimately the Universe.
There is an opportunity to consciously integrate. The gifts from the age of Enlightenment, the power of reason and the scientific method should not and must not be ignored. But likewise, our subjective reality, what you and I find delicious, the dining experience that makes us smile; that can no longer be ignored. The solution is not “either – or”, it is not “eat this – not that”; it is about inclusion not exclusion.
Ultimately, the reality of the universe returns to the individual. Ultimately, only you can perceive, and understand, and know what is delicious and makes you happy. The fact that this is your reality, and no one else’s, does not make it any less real or important.
Here, where we find ourselves in The Diner at the Betwixt and Between, there is a fork in the crossroads. There is an opportunity to embrace an evolutionary, integrative perspective and redefine one of our most basic necessities; our relationship with food, our personal food experience. There is a fork in the road, will you walk the path of Kings and Queens or remain in the darkness?
For more information on the Introduction to Culinary Medicine Course currently being offered online from the University of Montana, please use the following link: Link to on-line course information
International Food Information Council. (10 June 2020.). 2020 Food & Health Survey. International Food Information Council.
Mayer, E. (2018). The Mind-Gut Connection: how the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices, and our overall health. New York City: HarperCollins.
Nagel, E., & Newman, J. R. (2001). Godel’s Proof. New York: New York University press.
Rovelli, C. (2017). Reality Is Not What It Seems: The journey to quantum gravity. New York: Riverhead books.