Food is an “F” Word

Food is an “F” Word …but what an “F” Word!

©Gwen McCauley, 2006, 2017

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 My personal Muzak

Munching on goodies at the Hot Bread & Cheese Fair, Algarve, Portugal

As I’ve moved through the myriad small experiences that typically add up to what  I call ‘my life’ I’ve become aware of a subtle conversation I’m having with myself; my own personal Muzak, if you will.  But before I share with you what the conversation that has been making itself known to me is all about, let me provide you with a bit of context about how the past few days haven’t been ordinary ones for me.

For some time now I haven’t been happy with the way I’ve been feeling in my body:  frequently achy and creaky in the joints, with a mind that too often feels like someone has placed little bits of cotton wool between the cogs!  Nothing drastically wrong, but just feeling like the old organic bioprocessor wasn’t keeping up with the demands of life like it used to.  I tried exercising and while it helped, I didn’t feel better about life.  Getting extra sleep didn’t seem to make much difference either.  I cut out alcohol, sugar and caffeine which helped a bit but didn’t get me back to operating the way I recall as “the real Gwen”.  I was beginning to wonder if those days were just a distant memory!

And then a good buddy and I decided to engage an11-day fast.  I’ll spare you all the grim details of what goes into my mouth and what doesn’t these days, but suffice it to say that it’s not a lot.  I’m day 8 into the process and am extremely grateful to have a companion on the journey because it hasn’t felt easy.  Physically I am feeling wonderful:  I feel energized and I’m sleeping better.  I feel like I “see” the world more clearly.  My aches and pains have disappeared and despite it being peak gardening season all the bending and stooping is having little negative affect on my joints.  Physically I don’t even feel all that hungry.

Recent research has started to show that we are designed for fasts. It is only in the past 75 years that we Westerners have lived with an overabundance of readily accessible food. Throughout humanity we’ve lived a feast or famine cycle. It seems that our bodies like and may actually need the famine part more than we’ve realized. So I’m not surprised that I’m feeling so physically good despite the absence of food.

Who’s The Boss of Me Anyhow?

But mentally it is a whole other kettle of fish.  I’ve become aware of just how many of my thoughts are related to food:  buying it; preparing it; serving it; eating it.  I’ve also noticed the incredible volume of food commercials (as well as digestion related pharmaceuticals) on TV.  And there have been a few times when I’ve “snuck” some treats.

I use that word advisedly because I haven’t really “snuck” them.  I’ve been very open and above board about it.  But I’ve been aware inside that it feels like I am sneaking things; pulling the wool over the eyes of some nameless authority figure.  I’ve also discovered an inner conversation of defiance associated with ‘sneaking’ the treats (when did a raw carrot become a treat, I wonder?)  And I realize that I am being defiant towards that same nameless authority figure …who really is me.  Because I’m the one who made the decision to interrupt my typical eating patterns so I don’t have anyone else to defy or be resentful of for my being in this place.

It might look like a ‘fat ass’ photo but it’s me showing off my new pants!

Now there’s an insight for me to work with and allow my body to relax into. What else there is to be discovered in all of this if I allow this insight to play out?  Who is this imaginary authority figure that is a part of me?  How does she serve me?  How does she work to keep me in line?  In what way is it all backfiring on me because I end up doing the opposite of what the authority figure wants out of belligerence, defiance and resentment?  But I think processing that insight by deeply exploring where these questions fire off in my body will best wait until I am back eating regularly and my body is not so preoccupied with conversations about the absence of food.

Interestingly I have come to a place over these 8 days where I am having the undeniable experience of the presence of the absence of something.  By that I mean that in the absence of food I have become aware of the presence of something else.

That Conversation I Mentioned

It goes something like this:

Sharing a glass of bubbly with friends

In having made this choice to fast, I am aware of how much I enjoy everything in my life associated with food.  I am missing my regular trips to the grocer/market where I get to revel in the sensuousness of selecting fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and breads.  I am missing my daily check-ins with my body to decide what I’ll eat for dinner.  I am missing the moment of inspiration when an actual meal plan comes together in my head.  And I am missing the pleasure of scraping, peeling, chopping, sautéing, braising, smelling, tasting and seasoning the meals that delight me and any guests I may be cooking for.

A Leek & Mushroom Pie that was a delight to make

I’m actually missing those processes much more than I’m missing the food itself.  Although I do admit that what is also present in the absence of food is a heightened awareness of how refreshing it is to crunch into a juicy apple or munch through a crispy salad, how satisfying it is to sip a hot soup or savor a hearty stew.

So Where To From Here?

I know that when the weekend arrives I’ll return to my life altered from this fasting experience.  I’m already aware that there are certain food choices that will no longer appeal.  But more importantly, I know that those very ordinary moments in my unfolding life won’t seem so ordinary anymore.  I’ll appreciate all those trips for groceries; I’ll delight even more in warm summer evenings with the barbeque blazing; I’ll treasure the scent of the herbs I collect from my tiny garden patch all the more.  I’ll recognize and honor within myself the importance that food has in my life …not simply for acquiring nutrition and sustenance …but as a crucible for processes that are soothing, nurturing, creative and invitational.  And at some point when I have relaxed into these wonderful daily experiences, I’ll call up my defiance of that part of me that is the authority figure and I’ll make friends with her.  …and then I’ll get to see what else becomes possible for me.

I’ll also begin to think through the role of fasting in my life. Not as a way of purging or getting rid of toxins: our organs know how to do that just fine. But as a way of connecting with a different awareness of life. As a process that honours the millennia of feast/famine that is central to my humanness. And as a way of taking some pressure off my precious organs by giving them time to do little or minimal work. As I approach my 8th decade (crap, when did that happen?), I think my old body deserves a bit more kindness and caring than I’ve tended to give it. Who knows, it might just get me to a 9th decade.

Most importantly, though, I’ll think about food less through the lens of being some kind of dirty word and much more of a word that is sensual, life affirming, and growthful in both its presence and its absence.


Gwen McCauley, writer/author/tour guide/coach specializing in culinaria and culture has been in love with Portugal since 1975. Gwen loves to educate North Americans about the charms of Portugal and its cuisine. Her A Taste of Algarve custom culinary tours are popular with solo travelers and couples interested in an in-depth exploration of local food culture.  Gwen encourages visitors to attend local festivals, cultural events, farmer’s markets, lesser known sites and smaller towns across Portugal to really appreciate all that Portugal has to offer the world. After investing years in getting to know the Algarve in-depth, Gwen is now exploring the culinary landscape of other regions of Portugal.

Gwen contributes food culture articles to Discover Magazine (Canada/Brazil/Portugal) and a lifestyle column to Smart Living Algarve Magazine. She is a social media content provider and curator with a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumblr.

Gwen’s coaching centres around Life Transitions: helping people through difficult periods of their lives, whether it be job loss, retirement, divorce, bereavement, or finding yourself again. She works with an international clientele, using phone, Skype, What’sApp, e-mail or whatever virtual means is available to make the process seamless, safe and accessible for her clients.

Gwen lives half-time on the East Coast of Canada and the remainder of the year near Moncarapacho, Algarve, Portugal. Gwen is a member of Rotary International Iberia Satellite club where she works on the Club’s Public Relations Committee. She has a BA in Anthropology, an MA in Human Systems Intervention, is MTBI trained and is an NLP Trainer and Wel-Systems® Educator.


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