“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
– Virginia Woolf
Truth. Did you know Virginia Woolf also has an extensive history struggling with mental health? I did not. She had what we now call bipolar disorder. She lost both of her parents resulting in a mental breakdown for each loss, was institutionalized several times and attempted suicide twice.
Through all of this, she seemed to believe that the way she approached food was one of the best ways to contribute to mental health. For me, discovering this makes her advice carry more weight.
If you have known me for any amount of time, you have probably encountered my love for food and its surrounding culture. What I thought was perfectly typical growing up was quickly identified as being a “foodie” or “abnormal” when I moved away for college. After consideration, I now attribute my love and appreciation for food to my Palestinian and Armenian heritage. Food, and the times spent planning for it, making it, and consuming it are so valuable.
In this short article, I want to discuss the importance of food, since I live in Washington, D.C., and share a few of my favorite food stops in the metro area. After all, you may find yourself here for a conference or work meeting.
[Maketto – for lunch, coffee, the best pastries, or dim sum]
Food and Culture
Just like language, food is an expression of culture. And no matter where I go, I most look forward to eating. Eating in new places is a fantastic experience as you learn so much about families, communities, and people by the food they make and serve. Not only do you learn about their cultures, but you learn about the people themselves. People light up when you ask about their food, and especially when it is enjoyed. It may have been my grandma’s expression of excitement, as I ate her food, that formed my desire to share that experience with others.
[Cafein – for great coffee, particularly the espressoda, the breakfast sandwiches, and baked goods]
Food and Relationship
I have found the best way to get to know anyone has been over food or drink. Was that an obvious point? I would assume so, but perhaps not for everyone. If you think about the fact that you eat at least three times a day, and maybe throw in a few coffees, there is so much opportunity to share that time with someone. The simple act of going alongside someone in these everyday activities are some of the most bonding of experiences. We are quick to underestimate these types of outings, and to our detriment. Take some time to build your relationships over a meal.
[Le Diplomate – for the mushroom tart, trout almondine, farmer’s cheese, the burger, brunch items, the creme brulee, and any other dessert and coffee]
Food and Community
What’s the easiest way to get people to come to events? Free food! Everyone loves free food. Even if it isn’t free, food is purposeful and defines community events from weddings, to holidays, to birthdays, to diplomatic events, to religious ceremonies, and more. Thanksgiving is one easy example; consider how food brings together families and communities from every demographic and background.
[Thip Khao – for naem khao hu muu, laab, mee kathi, anything else]
Food and Work
I guess I need to include a discussion of work. My hesitancy around this topic is that work is an excuse most people use to overlook the importance of food. “Oh, I forgot to eat today…” has been uttered by too many of my friends. Although, being in D.C., you can surely see the importance of something like a “power lunch.” Some menus in the city even have specific menus for a power lunch. Although these carry many connotations, it goes to show that there is significance in how we bring food into our work, and how we connect with people in that way.
[Rose’s Luxury – for lychee salad, pasta, smoked brisket]
Remember that Virginia Woolf story at the beginning? Even through all her struggles, she managed to leave an enduring legacy. And, it seems like food played a critical role. So remember to not overlook the positive impact it brings.
Whatever life throws your way, you won’t be able to face it as well as when you learn to value food, and the people that come with it!
What are your unique food traditions?
James Abyad is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He lives in Alexandria, VA, and loves people, food, music, geography, languages, and Tolkien. His full-time job is just another basic federal employee, specifically a contracting officer, while fully enjoying the Washington, D.C., region. After studying International Relations and Arabic at American University, he aspired to work in diplomacy or a related non-profit; yet, like most millennials, he is trying to pay his student loans off first. So, in the meantime, you can find him investing time in family, friends, community, church, spin, and eating. You can read his posts here.