Food For Thought

I love Sunday mornings.  I like the serenity before everyone rises.  This morning I indulged in a little esoteric reading with a cup of English breakfast tea before Peter got up. The book was Alice In Wonderland Cookbook by John Fisher and Lewis Carroll.  Included in the book is an essay that Lewis Carroll wrote in 1907 titled Feeding the Mind. 

 He begins: “Breakfast, dinner, tea; in extreme cases, breakfast, luncheon, dinner, tea, supper, and a glass of something hot at bedtime. What care we take about feeding the lucky body! Which of us does as much for his mind? And what causes the difference? Is the body so much the more important of the two? By no means: but life depends on the body being fed, whereas we can continue to exist as animals though the mind be utterly starved and neglected. Therefore Nature provides that, in case of serious neglect of the body, such terrible consequences of discomfort and pain shall ensue, as will soon bring us back to a sense of our duty: and some of the functions necessary to life she does for us altogether, leaving us no choice in the matter. It would fare but ill with many of us if we were left to superintend our own digestion and circulation. . . . The consequences of neglecting the body can be clearly seen and felt; and it might be well for some if the mind were equally visible and tangible—if we could take it, say, to the doctor, and have its pulse felt.”

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He goes on to propose four key factors for what we consume intellectually—type, amount, variety, and frequency: “First, then, we should set ourselves to provide for our mind its proper kind of food. We very soon learn what will, and what will not, agree with the body, and find little difficulty in refusing a piece of the tempting pudding or pie which is associated in our memory with that terrible attack of indigestion, and whose very name irresistibly recalls rhubarb and magnesia; but it takes a great many lessons to convince us how indigestible some of our favorite lines of reading are, and again and again we make a meal of the unwholesome novel, sure to be followed by its usual train of low spirits, unwillingness to work, weariness of existence — in fact, by mental nightmare.”

“Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount… Then, again, though the food be wholesome and in proper amount, we know that we must not consume too many kinds at once… Having settled the proper kind, amount, and variety of our mental food, it remains that we should be careful to allow proper intervals between meal and meal, and not swallow the food hastily without mastication, so that it may be thoroughly digested; both which rules, for the body, are also applicable at once to the mind… And then, as to the mastication of the food, the mental process answering to this is simply thinking over what we read. This is a very much greater exertion of mind than the mere passive taking in the contents of our Author…”

 In this age of information overload, this 107-year-old musing seems to be as relevant as ever.  So often we sit in front of a computer and feed our brains the kind of indigestible junk food we would not have fed our body.

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Carroll ends with an entertaining “test” for healthy mental digestion: “To ascertain the healthiness of the mental appetite of a human animal, place in its hands a short, well-written, but not exciting treatise on some popular subject — a mental bun, in fact. If it is read with eager interest and perfect attention, and if the reader can answer questions on the subject afterwards, the mind is in first-rate working order. If it be politely laid down again, or perhaps lounged over for a few minutes, and then, ‘I can’t read this stupid book! Would you hand me the second volume of “The Mysterious Murder”?’ you may be equally sure that there is something wrong in the mental digestion.”

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Having fed my brain the feast of Lewis Carroll, I went on to plan our Sunday brunch.  Then Peter woke up and the two of us walked to the Fort Mason Farmers Market at 9:30 to get fresh produce for brunch and dinner.  All around us, people were jogging or walking their dogs.  San Francisco is a health conscious city.

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My favorite at the market is the dry-farmed tomatoes.  There are no other tomatoes in the world that are even close when it comes to the intensity of its flavor.  We had them with fresh Mozzarella cheese.  The natural flavor of everything was so perfect that we didn’t need to use Balsamic glaze or olive oil, not even salt and pepper.  I also made enough French toast and smoked-salmon egg scramble to feed an army.  So today is a day of abundance.  Not a day to lose weight.

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