In many cultures, it’s considered to be a sign of hospitality to encourage others to eat. The best way to make a guest feel at home is to bring them plates of food until they can no longer move, and then to exclaim, “but you haven’t eaten anything!” Or to ask someone who has eaten modest portions why they haven’t eat much and if they might be ill. I certainly enjoy situations like this on occasion, because it makes me feel like royalty; not to mention the fact that there are some truly phenomenal cooks in the world.
But if these situations of being encouraged to eat too much happen on a regular basis, it becomes a burden. It is difficult too eat enough to please your host without making yourself sick, or to praise the food profusely enough that you can get by without offending, or to come up with a convincing excuse, often a lie, as to why you can eat no more.
Nutrition is certainly a confusing thing, and new studies still come out on a regular basis with new information on what we should or shouldn’t eat, how we should eat, or when we should eat. I have made it one of my goals to teach my students (and their parents) about proper nutrition, but I’ve realized that one of the major obstacles is that many people just don’t know what good nutrition is. I think this is the same issue with food as hospitality; it is unclear whether eating more is good or bad. In some situations, eating more might give you the necessary nutrients that you might not otherwise have gotten, and if you do not have enough to eat normally, it is helpful to be served too much every once in a while. But if you make a point of eating only healthful foods and in appropriate quantities, being to told eat more can be annoying or offensive.
When I cook for myself, I like to make dishes like lentil soup with cauliflower instead of potatoes, or bread with yogurt instead of butter in order to make them a little healthier. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy some pastries every once in a while.