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Why a Simple Sandwich Tastes Better at the Beach

How eating outdoors can reduce stress

Picnic on the beach
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The early 19th century French writer Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, famous for his observations about the pleasures of food and eating, beautifully summarized the positive power of eating outdoors.

He called alfresco dining, “perfect freedom,” in which “the universe is [diners’] drawing room and the sun their lamp.” He continues, noting that eating outdoors, people “have appetite, Nature’s special gift, which lends to such a meal a vivacity unknown indoors, however beautiful the surroundings.”

Research supports Brillat-Savarin’s poetic insights with suggestions that eating outdoors offers benefits from stress reduction to heightened immunity.

This stands to reason, given that studies have shown that as little of 20 minutes outdoors—with or without food and drink—can lower the stress hormone cortisol.

In a food context, this lower stress level helps us pay attention to what we’re eating. We savor and taste food in a more focused way than when we’re inside. Eating with attention, the wellness writer Mitra Malek notes, increases both concentration and joy: “Being mentally present when we eat…helps us better notice how pleasurable [food] is.” If you’ve ever mused that even a simple sandwich tastes better at the beach, you intuitively understand the connection between fresh, open air and the mental space to relish every bite.

Research also shows that our immune systems are better equipped to fend off illness when we spend time in nature. One Japanese study linked time in the woods increased immune-boosting cells called NK cells, with the benefit lasting up to seven days after the natural experience. 

As you tuck into a crisp salad, a dish of ice cream or a meal fresh off the grill, take the time to congratulate yourself for choosing to eat in Brillat-Savarin’s universal outdoor drawing room, investing in your health and wellness—and just plain enjoying the beautiful world in which you live.

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