A Taste for Life – Dr. Theresa Fassihi
Dr. Marie-Anne Suizzo*, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, spent eight months studying how the French parent their children.
A very important life lesson that French parents impart to their children from the beginning is “l’education du gout” or the education of taste. This means teaching children from an early age to appreciate and savor the wide variety of flavors in the world and to eat properly at the table.
From the age of 2, children are regularly served four-course lunches with a little appetizer, main course, cheese plate and dessert. Dr. Suizzo writes:
“But taste education goes beyond cultivating your children’s palate. It’s about awakening and stimulating all the senses as well as the mind and emotions.”
She contrasts this with our tendency in the U.S. to separate pleasure from daily life and allow it only on special occasions. We are taught that we should value hard work and sacrifice, even describing pleasures as “guilty.” As a result, we may swerve between self-sacrifice and over-indulgence.
French parents believe that teaching children how to enjoy the pleasures in their daily life protects them from turning to extreme and harmful behaviors like drug addiction. And there is research to support this:
Teenagers who regularly share in family meals have better relationships with their parents and are less likely to try drugs and alcohol.
We can take a page from the French to work on recovery. Part of healing from an eating disorder or addictions that often co-occur is “l’education du gout,” learning to savor and appreciate our food, our relationships, our lives. As Dr. Suizzo explains,
“The French idea of education of taste has much in common with the notion of mindfulness. Both traditions focus on giving yourself over to the moment and living it fully.”
This notion captures the beauty and joy in life that we hope our patients can find in their recovery.
Dr. Theresa Fassihi is Executive Director of Eating Recovery Center of Houston.
*Dr. Marie-Anne Suizzo is primarily interested in how parent-child relationships shape children's and adolescents' development and learning across cultures and ethnic groups. Her research has focused on parental involvement, child socialization, and identity development.