Inspiration from other Cultures: Learning to be Happy with Less

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We don’t just have types of Cheerios to pick from at the grocery store. We have an entire aisle of cereal selections.

I never thought anything of it until I watched the documentary God Grew Tired of Us (2006) – IMDb about men coming from Sudan and entering a grocery store and feeling overwhelmed.

Food is in abundance; just look at the aisles in the grocery store and the assortment of cereal, snack, and dairy products.  It’s normal. It’s what we expect when we enter a store: choice, and not just a few, but many. 

If everything is so easy to get than how does it cause you to appreciate it? 

Maybe this is why people who have so little are so thankful. The expectations have been stripped away.  Any choice is better than no food at all.  This can put food into perspective.  From the cookbook Real Thai Vegetarian, I learned in Thailand monks often eat what is provided to them from the locals, which means at times eating meat, even though they try to eat a vegetarian diet (McDermott 10).  They are humble and appreciate the food provided out of respect.  I do not associate my eating habits with humbleness or appreciation.  If I look honestly at how I food view food I would say I expect a healthy home cooked meal each night without causing financial strain.  The grocery store is a five minute walk from my house so I can easily get what I need if I forgot an ingredient.  Since food is so easily attainable and in plenteous supply I naturally become complacent.  Of course this is a normal reaction, but then why do I feel so drawn to the idea of having less? Maybe it’s because food takes on a new meaning to me, one that it currently does not have in my home. 

Some cultures are set up in a way to value food differently than ours.  In Thailand, meat is added for flavor in small amounts due to its expense (McDermott 11).  What we take for granted here as a staple someone else sees as a delicacy.  Meat is readily available at the grocery store and in a variety of forms.  To us meat is not the luxury, but the cut of meat.   When a family buys an expensive cut of meat or a unique ingredient the meal is elevated to a new level of importance.  The food is taken special care of to make sure it is not wasted and used in the best way to bring about its flavors. In my home international ingredients are more for special occasions as they expensive and hard to get.   This is also true in some areas of Thailand.  In remote areas coconut milk is reserved for special guests (McDermott 94).   What if we valued all our food like this?

Special meals do not just have to be about ingredients, but also time.  If I have to take hours to make a meal it will be on a weekend and for a special meal.  People who live in the country of Thailand may find that making their own coconut milk may be too much after long day’s work in the rice fields (McDermott 94).  Those who live in the city though can get coconut milk by a machine in short amount of time (McDermott 94).  What is a luxury depends on your lifestyle and perspective. 

Maybe I am so taken by these cultural practices because they contrasted so sharply from my own.  I wanted to be more like them.  So how can I be more mindful in my eating?

I need to return to a heart of thankfulness and remind myself that God provides for all my needs.  I needed to remember the interconnectedness of the world and that I should appreciate what I have because others have less.

I could do this by purposely having less in order to appreciate when I have more or being more aware of my bounty. Or I could do both.

Ideas to help me in my journey:

Serve simple meals with basic ingredients.

Reserve spices and ingredients not used in everyday cooking for special occasions, even if readily available.

Say grace before each meal.

Understand what it is like for those with less first hand by volunteering at a food shelter.

Cook for those who have less, are experiencing troubling circumstances, or are alone.

Learn more about the plight of others who are less fortunate to gain a broader perspective.

Support those local and international organizations who help those in critical need.

Fast more often so I experience what is like to have less and appreciate food more.

May you find ways to be thankful of how God nourishes your family.

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