To nourish

“A diet based on quantity rather than quality has ushered a new creature onto the world stage: the human being who manages to be both overfed and undernourished.” — Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

When I read this quote a few weeks ago, that last word popped out at me and stuck. Well, the root of the word anyway:


It’s come up lately during conversations with good friends on brisk Spring evenings and has occurred to me in moments of reflection and prayer. Nourishment is, after all, what mothers do. It’s a step beyond nurturing — it is this very life-giving thing that is absolutely essential from the moment a new human sprouts in the warmth of our bodies.

And as I have spent time in thought while kneading bread or holding a child with scraped knees or bruised feelings, I am aware that there is such a difference between assuaging — simply satisfying a desire — and nourishing.

Michael Pollan is writing about being overfed and undernourished on something as base as food, but a friend recently shared that she felt similarly about interacting online, unfulfilled by her plethora of cyber relationships. I had another recent conversation with a woman who felt the same about her romantic past — she had many lovers, yet never felt fulfilled. Overfed, undernourished.

I have felt similarly at times — busy working, pulled in a million directions, not sure which of the paths forward to take. But I have decided in recent months and days and hours that the best path is always the most nourishing.

It’s not always the most easy or convenient path (was it Roosevelt that said nothing in the world is worth doing unless it means a little effort?) but it is the path that fills the soul with peace. As illustrated in one of my favorite scriptures:

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

I was also reminded of the sentiment while reading the book French Kids Eat Everything. Author Karen Le Billon writes about a ubiquitous French word that intrigued her while she researched the psychology of French food: aliment.

Aliment, it turns out, doesn’t translate directly into English. Both aliment and nourriture are translated as “food,” but these two words do not have the same meaning in French. Nourriture is the easy one to define, as it corresponds to the English meaning for food: something you ingest. But aliment is more complicated.

Searching for an explanation, I came across a quote from one of the best-known French nutritionists of the twentieth century, Jean Trémolières. He argued that an aliment is more than just a nutritious foodstuff. It is also something that can satisfy both emotional and physical appetites; it nourishes both physically and psychologically. In fact, a better translation of “aliment” would probably be “a nourishment.”

I love that. In a world of many distractions to ingest, there is a more nourishing way — the aliment. And not just related to food, of course, but in all we fill ourselves with.


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