For most of us in the developed world, food is always delicious. For my wife and me, I know it certainly is. Everything we eat is a mouthwatering array of flavors, and we make sure of that when we plan our weekly menu. We don’t eat anything we don’t love – ever. For myself, the things I love are savory: spaghetti, curry, meat pies, entire hogs basted in barbecue sauce and their own juices. My wife has an extra love of sweets: chocolate, cake, doughnuts, whole swans dipped in fondant and sprinkled with nibbed sugar. Hardly a day goes by where both of us aren’t having the things we love to put in our mouths, and frankly it’s hard to find that many swans and hogs at this time of year.
We love to eat, and we love to cook. We love for those things we eat and cook to be delicious and varied, and my wife even has a blog where she makes us food from all around the world – Around the World in 196 Recipes. Near the top of the list of things we both enjoy, food is there. Many different kinds of food also would make it onto a list of simple pleasures for us.
Recently, though, we started to wonder what life would be like if every food you ate wasn’t a taste sensation. How would your body react if the only food you put in it was food to fill you up and power your day, if you were only eating to live? How would your mind react? Will you even want to eat if the food isn’t made extradelicious by a coating of sugar or salt?
I’ve been reading a lot of books about prison, and particularly about the Soviet Gulag. In places like that, the prisoners didn’t get much choice in what they eat. Sometimes they’re lucky to get anything at all. What they do get is usually plain. Unseasoned. And yet, because of hunger, because of what their body needs, they savor each bite of their plain bread or watery gruel. I wanted to experience that. I want to experience the raw, grateful pleasure of a starving man who gets something – anything – to fill his belly.
So for the next week, we’re not going to be eating any delicious food. We’re doing without all seasonings, sauces, and flavorings. That means no salt or pepper, no ketchup, no lemon juice, basically no anything. No fat (Because it’s delicious. Take it from me, the man who once made a sandwich with nothing but pork fat.) means no meat, no butter, and certainly no dairy products. Absolutely no sweet, sweet fruit.
We’ve made a list of about fifteen nutritious foods we’re going to be having, and made sure there was nothing we’d choose to eat on its own. There are plenty of vegetables or relatively plain things that we do love, so we removed them from our initial list. For example, plain sweet potatoes are lovely, so they had to go. Bread on its own? Too tasty. Peas? Too sweet. Lettuce? Gone. It was surprising to realize how many plain things we do love, and how many things really are naturally delicious or have a pleasing texture. The things we’re having this week are the plainest foods we could think of. This morning, we had plain oatmeal made with only water. For dinner, we’ll be having plain kidney beans with boiled kale.
We both enjoy experimenting with doing things differently, and this is certainly going to be interesting. Will we be able to eat this way for 7 days, 3 meals a day, 21 meals in total? Will we still desire to eat at every meal from hunger, or will we want to skip meals with their unappetizing fare? We’re going to keep track of our thoughts and feelings as we eat this way throughout the week, and at the end of the week we’ll post again to show what it’s like eating this way.
It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why?
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Crossposted at A Family Against the Flow)