God is the original Architect of the slow-food movement , which celebrates real, whole food – the opposite of fast food. He deliberately created a slow nourishment process. Food takes time to grow, deliver, prepare, and consume (not to mention the dishes to be cleaned afterward!). Our food system gives us the gift of developing patience, and sometimes we can be so busy that we miss it.
In a modern world, slowing down and waiting can be frustrating, but…can that be a good thing sometimes? Waiting can remind us of our dependence on God. It gives us time to connect with others more deeply. Waiting creates space for wisdom to form, for character to develop, for life to unfold. Patience is celebrating waiting rather than despising it.
When I moved to Paris for a job in my early thirties, I saw how God can use food to nurture and grow patience. In France, meals were worthy of slowing down to grow and procure the freshest ingredients, even if those ingredients cost a bit more, and this shaped the way I viewed a meal, and the way I cooked. I wasn’t just transformed by the ingredients there; I was also changed by how the French ate.
A few months after I moved to Paris, I met Philippe, who is from a tiny village outside of Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. Meals in the South of France are a leisurely time of connection and celebration of food, and the pace shocked my type-A, post-MBA, career-girl sensibilities. Lunch and dinner in the South of France can easily last a couple of hours, each mealtime filled with conversation, and sometimes boisterous debate. Food brings people together, both around the table and throughout the entire food life cycle – from growing ingredients to spending time in the kitchen preparing a meal.
It’s not just the celebration of ingredients or the unhurried nature of their cooking that the French are getting right; it’s also how they sit around a table, how long they stay there, and, maybe most remarkably, how often they share their table with one another. Meals are slow, conversation is rich, and people are welcomed, often without fussy advanced preparations. There’s so much I love about French eating!
One of my favorite French eating traditions is the aperitif, a convivial and family-friendly version of the American cocktail hour. More than a snack and drink break, the aperitif is a short pause taken before dinner to transition from the worries of the day into the connection of dinner. When we visit my in-laws, an hour or two before dinnertime the family gathers around some tiny nibbles and sips on anything from lemonade to pastis on ice with a splash of water. An aperitif brings family and friends together, luring us gently out of our day and into the evening.
If my in-laws are any measure, the aperitif is the unofficial neighborly moment in France—not quite the five-hour commitment of a French dinner but a perfect way to spend a casual hour or two with friends from across the street. The food served at an aperitif varies widely. It can be as small as a bowl of olives or nuts or, oddly, decidedly American Pringles. Or it can be a near-buffet of heartier finger fare, called an aperitif dinatoire. Some favorites of ours to serve include pissaladière (caramelized onion tart), tapenade, and pâté and toasted country bread. Sometimes at the apero (as it’s often called) the chatting keeps going past dinner hour. Often the neighbors linger, and we find ourselves digging through the fridge to find something to toss on the grill or some kind of leftovers to turn into an impromptu dinner party. No stress. No Pinterest-perusing to find the just-right recipe. Just the gift of time shared with family or friends that extends into a meal because no one wants the connection to end. Hospitality is about relationships, not performance, and the French aperitif tradition celebrates that.
French food traditions showed me how to slow me down enough to enjoy the gift of God’s food and nurture relationships. Life is admittedly busy and time is precious, but when we prioritize speed over everything else, we are missing out not just on God’s will for us but also on his best for us. We miss out on the daily reminder to give God space, to offer him our time, to develop our patience.
Melissa d’Arabian was a corporate finance executive before becoming the host of Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners and Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping. She also developed the FoodNetwork.com series The Picky Eaters Project, serves as lead judge on Guy’s Grocery Games, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners. Her newest book is Tasting Grace: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect Us to God, One Another, and Ourselves. Melissa has an MBA from Georgetown University, and lives with her husband and their four daughters in San Diego.