I sat down at the dining room table, glancing at that omelet, but really paying attention to the thoughts that were running through my mind. First, I realized I must have been looking for a lot more than physical nourishment from that plate, because I was hungry; I just didn't want that omelet. "Okay, I thought to myself. "This is a significant moment. Maybe the lesson I'm meant to learn here is that I need to stop looking to my plate for excitement, for entertainment, for company, for anything other than fuel for my body." Hmm.... My next thought was, "Eat the omelet, and then go out and find some real fun. Think of it like gas at a gas station, and you're the car. Put the fuel in, and then use it to do whatever you want."
The second thing that crossed my mind when I first acknowledged that I didn't want the omelet was a 3 year-old I once encountered while doing a research project in New England many years ago. There were a bunch of kids playing in a park, and though he was happily playing among them, he'd also been complaining to his mom that he was hungry. Eventually, she came over to the playground area where he was swinging in a little kiddie swing, handed him a slice of pizza on a paper plate, and then walked back to the picnic table where the rest of the food was. He looked down at the pizza, scrunched up his face, and cried, "I don't want this!" I watched as he stared at it, pouting. He slowly picked it up by the crust, and watched as the cheese began to slide down onto the plate. "I don't want pizza, " he whined, putting it back down. He kicked his legs angrily from the swing, and then defiantly declared, "I. WANT. MC. DONALD'S!!" Yes, I thought of him at that moment.
The third thing that flashed through my mind also involved a young boy, but this little guy was from a small village in Tanzania. Prior to leaving for that particular trip to East Africa, I was approached by the president of the company where I was working; she'd heard that I had taken gently used children's clothing to an impoverished village there before, and offered to donate some clothes that her sons had outgrown. So my baggage that trip included a generous amount of young boys' clothes to give away.
When the opportunity came, I set off with a driver/guide to a village where he'd grown up, and where he still knew everyone. Yes, it was a wonderful feeling each time we stopped and I handed off a pile of kids' clothes into the welcome arms of a mom or grandmother. Towards the end of our mission, we stopped at a small house where, outside, a man had just handed a bowl of something to his 4ish year-old son. I couldn't tell what was in the bowl, but it looked like mush, and was runnier than oatmeal. While the guide chatted with the father and explained why we had stopped by, I watched the little boy voraciously shoveling spoonful after spoonful into his mouth. He was barefoot, wore shorts that were quite large on his little frame, and had numerous holes in his t-shirt. Spoon-to-mouth. Spoon-to-mouth. Spoon-to-mouth. I was quite happy to hand off the last pile of clothes to his father, who then turned to his son and said something in the local language. The child scowled a bit, turned his back to me, and kept eating. His dad scolded him harshly, but to no avail. I realized that the father was trying to get his son to say 'thank you,' but this little boy was not about to stop eating, not even for a second, until the bowl was empty. The thought crossed my mind that this might have been his only meal of the day, because all that mattered to him for those few minutes was that bowl of food.
The message here isn't that we shouldn't waste food because there are children starving in Africa (although we shouldn't!). There are people starving on every continent in the world, and if you live in the United States as I do, it's quite likely that there are people going hungry within 15 miles of where you're reading this very blog post. No, the message here is about the expectations and the values and all the baggage that we heap onto our plates. It's about recognizing that, regardless of your means, regardless of where you live, and I'd even go so far to say regardless of your species (!), the point of food is to nourish our bodies. Period. The culture around us might bombard us with messages to the contrary, but that's probably just the noise of capitalism, as marketers try to persuade you to buy and consume what they're selling. Sure, it's nice when the food we eat tastes amazing. It's great when it's makes us happy, and it's great when it's exactly what we want. But we should never forget that these are not requirements. Food is not supposed to be any of those things; it's just supposed to nourish our bodies so we have the fuel to keep on going.
So as I looked at my omelet that spring morning, and I thought of those little boys, I rotated my lens a bit, brought that egg white omelet into clearer focus, and I ate it. And then I went looking for some real entertainment.