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Eat This and Be Wildly Grateful

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Hey! See those people sitting next to you at that restaurant? That café? That food court, juice bar, sushi joint? Ever notice what happens when their food order arrives?

...Food, mind you, that has (usually) been carefully planned, meticulously prepared, perfectly cooked, beautifully presented, food that has been sourced from the finest or at least most fascinating array of growers, butchers, manufacturers, tastemakers, plants and animals from all over the world?

Watch and be sort of... depressed. Many, even most Americans will barely glance at their plates when they land in front of them. It's true. From casual café fare to the fanciest gourmet meal, most will simply take one glimpse to make sure everything appears tolerable and not moldy, and then plow right into it, devour it, perhaps barely chewing, not even noticing what they're doing.

Have you ever noticed? It's sort of tragically rare to see anyone pause for more than a split second to offer deeper thanks, to appreciate any level of beauty, bounty, artistry, nourishment in their food as it hovers near their mouths and prepares to enter the human system. All too often, we just take it all for granted and devour. Hey, I do it, too. I'm trying to do it far less. Aiming for never. Aiming, in fact, for the exact opposite.

Recently I was fortunate enough to enjoy a bottle of wine with the completely lovely A.J. Jacobs and his entourage, just before his book event here in SF. Jacobs is the author of a number of hilarious "stunt" books, including The Know-It-All, in which he endeavors to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and (more famously) 2007's The Year of Living Biblically, in which he attempts to follow roughly 700 hardline rules the Bible slaps down, from diet to clothing, avoiding unclean women to growing a completely epic beard. You know, the usual.

His new book, Drop Dead Healthy -- in which he tries nearly every health craze, diet regimen, and piece of exercise equipment available to earn himself as much absolute health as humanly possible -- just hit the shelves. It looks terrific.

The gaggle of us, we were sharing in this sort of dreamlike scenario: Three small tables adorned with all manner of fine olives, bread, cheese, white wine, all in SF's rather gorgeous Ferry building, a gem of a locale so loaded with basic niceties and human pleasures it's almost too much to handle -- the light, the wood tables, the view, the endless delicacies, the friendly group of relative strangers. It was sort of astonishing, really.

The time came, and we all strolled over to Book Passages, where Jacobs proceeded to talk up his books and his experiences enduring their challenges. The stories were enchanting, but it was during the Q&A that one particular question stood out: Which of his books/experiments had the most profound and lasting effect on his life? Which one stuck with him the most? A particular health craze? The Paleo diet? Chewing your food 100 times? Loving thy neighbor? Knowing the capital of Bolivia?

The answer, he said, was none of those. It was actually a lesson from the Bible, a basic and seemingly obvious rule that was also irrefutable, timeless and unquestionable across all time and space and dimension. And it wasn't even about gay sex.

The rule was about giving thanks. Which is to say, saying thank you (often literally), offering gratitude, endlessly and always, for all that surrounds you. Tremendously simple idea, he said, but it changes everything.

By the way, Jacobs is Jewish. A journalist. Lives in New York City. He is head down and working in front of a computer screen 60 hours a week. Not exactly a rainbow-twirling hippie yogi from Marin, in other words. So to hear him suggest that the most powerful and life-changing lesson he's ever gleaned is to simply say thanks to every little thing in the world, well, this is sort of curious and wonderful. I'm accustomed to it in the yoga sphere, but in journalism it's, shall we say, unusual.

Be cynical if you want. Be jaded and sneery and think the world is a razor blade of anger and pain, just waiting to slash you across the heart. This is your choice.

But the fact is, a thousand things go right for you every day. From the moment you wake up, the universe aligns in countless miraculous ways to make your life happen fluidly, effortlessly, incredibly. Your heart is working, your systems function, you do not instantly collapse, lose a limb or spontaneously combust. Amazing...

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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate. He recently learned how to properly spank a nun, requested that you please join his Tantric yoga sex cult and begged you oh my God please do not eat this. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...

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