Eating, cooking and growing from the felt sense

Although it seems an obvious thing to do, how often do you ask your body what it would like to eat? Or when it would like to eat?

It is easy for the body’s voice to be lost in the need to feed ourselves within the restrictions we have – from the advice we follow, the ideals we subscribe to, our daily timetables, what we have in the fridge, what needs to be used up, or what’s growing in the garden.

But, as a practice, how would it be to find the ‘felt sense’ (Gendlin, 1978) of what food to prepare? I’ve been enjoying making space to listen to my body’s gut feelings around food and am curious about how discerning it can be.

Of course our guts are likely to have a lot to say about food. After all they have been digesting what we eat our whole lives and, through its own extensive nervous system (Gershon, 1998), your gut learns what it prefers from feedback harvested at cellular level. So how could we ignore this wealth of affective information about food (Provenza, 2018)? Surely it is always part of our decision-making about food?

Food is notoriously subject to personal preferences which we express from infancy and throughout our lives. So in saying what we like or do not like it’s easy to assume that we are acting with our guts in mind. But another component of our taste for food is the cognitive process (ibid.) – what we think we know about food. This is subject to many social influences, including beliefs and faith in dietary advice, and other reasons to eat beyond nutrition. Of course this can be useful but it is not alone a reliable indicator of what our bodies need.

Yet we might privilege the cognitive over the affective processing of food. Perhaps part of the reason is that as we are domesticated into socially acceptable persons, we may lose trust in the affective feedback our bodies give us around food, in order to fit in with our social influences and perhaps in part out of fear of being called in adulthood what we might have been chided for being as a child: a fussy eater. Another reason might be that our gut feelings may offer information so fine and complex that it may defy rational explanation or convenient labelling. So, we may find it easier to go with what we think than to make sense of what our cells are conveying to us. Perhaps the trick is to soften our need to understand what the body is saying. After all, the body doesn’t care much about explanation, which is more of a social requirement to identify and define ourselves to others.

“While people can tell you what they prefer, we don’t necessarily understand how their preferences originate. We don’t need to think about that any more than we have to think about which enzymes to release to digest food. The body takes care of that – without a thought.” (Provenza, 2018: 61, emphases in original)

So, how would it be to make space for your cells to create a recipe? To let your gut have a say? To spend a few moments asking your body what ingredients are needed? Perhaps even down to the herbs and spices to use. Could you let your ‘nutritional wisdom’ (ibid.) take care of you? And how could we create a meal together from our cells, each of us getting what we need within a social context?

Taking it further, how would it be to decide what to grow from the felt sense?

I’m intrigued to find out.