Lebanon: Pass the halloumi, with friends
The other thing I learned in my reporting of this story is that it’s not just about what we eat and how we grow that food. How we eat also matters. So I wanted to use an anecdote to illustrate that idea. I could have chosen so many cuisines for this anecdote. I love the cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean, so that’s what I chose.
It was a Sunday morning and the kitchen at Beit El Qamar, in the hills above Beirut, was a bright, busy enterprise. Herbs had been picked from the garden out back. Pots were simmering on the stove. Chickpeas were folded into an earthen bowl of yogurt and tahini.
By midday, as my family and I sat on the terrace, small plates of many things appeared on the tables all around. There were cold and hot foods, blended and whole, a spectrum of colors from every part of the landscape. There was sheep cheese, grilled or plain, tabbouleh heavy in mint, walnuts puréed with red peppers, dandelions sautéed with onions, and, for dipping, a bowl of olive oil with crushed thyme and sesame.
I like to be specific, because that helps the reader experience what I’m experiencing. These particular foods also have different textures in the mouth. Ideally, I want my readers to taste a bit of what I’m tasting.
It was all there. Grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. There was meat, too. But, as in pho, it didn’t dominate. It hid in the heart of a fried kibbe: ground, spiced lamb cocooned in bulgur.
It was a meal meant to be eaten with others, to be passed around and discussed. A meal designed to slow me down, even if just for an afternoon.
I tell you about this meal because it embodies the final and most basic principle of eating well, both for our health and the health of the planet: eating together.
The why-it-matters of this section.
Sharing a meal can be a good way to avoid waste and overconsumption. There’s usually someone in the group who will pop the last piece of cheese into her mouth (my kid), or scrape the last bits of kibbe from the plate (me).
Not least, eating together makes eating more pleasurable.
Brazil is nudging its people in that direction. Its national dietary guidelines offer not just tips on what to eat, but also how to eat.
“Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company,” they suggest. “Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life.”