If you have walked the busy and chaotic streets of Taipei, weather you were in the city center or in one of the outer areas, you have seen them: little moving metal stands equipped with pots, friers, ovens, blenders and any other tools necessary to make fast and filling local foods. Dumplings, crepes, soups, noodles and rice dishes are the most typical, but there are plenty others. Some of these places are a little bit more sophisticated and contain a space with sitting area, either outside on a tiny table with plastic seats, or inside with tables and chairs and often a TV set. Some such places even go as far as creating a whole buffet - another preferred eating way of the Taiwanese - where people can chose whatever food they like and pay by weight. With only as much as 3 USD an adult can thus consume a full meal, with plate, chop sticks, water and a side of rice. A quick solution in between work breaks, people often line-up at these places during lunch break, to quickly purchase and consume their cheap lunch and go.
So what's wrong with this picture? As I often tell my Taiwanese friend, who works here since many years, the food served in these places is often not the healthiest. The base usually consists of white rice or noodles, cooked with abundant oil and salt and some choice of meats, fish, other animal products and some vegetables, all cooked in oil and salt as well. Rarely if ever do these places offer raw vegetables and fruits (although one could arguably go separately to the typical juice stands to get some blended fruits and vegetables on the go). Very few places offer a choice of healthier whole grain noodle or rice option. Mostly it is impossible to avoid large quantities of oil and salt when eating this way, and of course a great part of the meal consists of animal products.
These are all health related reasons for discouraging the consumption of these kinds of foods, but today I really want to focus on another, and in my opinion, more important reason, which really encompasses all and includes health as a side-factor.
What we chose to put in our mouth becomes the building blocks of our body. Our physical body is the only vessel we own and can use in this life and reality. It is arguably the most precious material possession we have. It is the vessel through which we live our lives, we go through experiences, birth our creations, connect with people, it is the very tool through which we live. Therefore the kind of attention, time, dedication, presence and love we give our body is the same sort of attention time, dedication, presence and love we give ourselves and our existence in this life.
Now think for a moment of the experience of eating in the above mentioned places. Imagine it in your head, as though you were doing it right now. What sort of messages does this experience give you about the way you love yourself? Are you giving yourself abundance, love, time, dedication, presence with this experience?
I would argue that waiting in a line, in order to quickly pick up unhealthy and cheaply prepared foods, then sit on a table or chair in a declining room, perhaps distracted by a TV set, quickly consuming your food, without really being present to fully enjoy the experience, and then rushing back to work is an anything-but loving experience towards yourself.
Let's start with the way the food is made. There is little to no love and attention in creating this sort of food. Little care is given to the quality and health of the ingredients. The food was made for the sole purpose of selling as much as possible in the shortest possible time, i.e. profit. Ironically it was made cheap for this reason. The people preparing this food do not look healthy, joyous, radiant and happy while making it. Indeed they look crammed and stressed in little, airless and unhygienic places, under the pressure of preparing lots of food with little rest and breaks.
Let's now look at the food itself. The food is often bland or has little taste variety, therefore not providing a varied and enjoyable experience for the person eating it. It is served in a little, sad and undecorated crammed room, with little air ventilation and no attention to aesthetics, often in the middle of city traffic noise. The place brings little joy to the senses of the person present in it. As I mentioned before, the quality of the food does little to one's health benefit, in fact making the person who eats it heavier, tired and less thriving.
And now let's look at the way the people enjoy this food. They give little attention to the choice and quality of the dishes. They spend little money, thus giving up their joy over a tiny monetary gain. They spend time in a sad and ugly environment, often among the chaos and noise of the nearby street. They consume the food quickly, without dedicating their presence to themselves and their experience, often distracted by a TV set, and then leave to go back to their duties.
I would say this is anything but a loving experience. As someone once said "The way we do anything is the way we do everything." The little love we place in ourselves through a such a fundamental daily practice as the experience of nourishing our bodies, of rebuilding our strength, and nurturing our heart, says a lot about the way we see and treat ourselves. The way we chose to place food in our body is a great representation of the way we love ourselves.