Food Spirituality: The Path to Mindful Eating

Yesterday I read a beautiful post by Kent Hayden on Huffington Post about the secularisation of eating. I absolutely loved the article and the poetry behind it,  and it spoke of many truths that I wish to explore in my own writing and in my own life. But the comment section felt like a war zone. People were up in arms that someone would find any problem with the secularisation of food. The thing is,  secularisation is a controversial word; it’s so tied up in debates over prayer in schools and the ten commandments hanging in courtrooms that people run to grab the pitchforks when it’s even mentioned.  In many ways I see secularisation as a good thing  (I’m pretty down on theocracies after spending too much time research the 14th century), but I think what Hayden was trying to address got lost in word choice. The major point of the post was to draw attention to the fact that that utility of consumption has replaced the sanctity and stewardship that used to govern our relationship with food. Hayden’s key argument was that ‘the subjugation of meal-time to our commutes and our sitcoms eliminated the occasion for reflection upon and gratitude for the simple good of enjoying our food.” We need to bring the sacred rituals back to dinner.

I love the ritual of food. I love the care and time put into tea ceremonies. I love the special foods we eat at holiday time,  I love how the smell of peaches will always remind me of summers at my family’s lake house, I love the way Premji (our wonderful chef at the Navdanya farm) was able to churn out such perfect chapatis every mealtime so much better than I ever could. I recently watched a sushi chef basically fillet an entire cucumber with a paring knife in calm, measured, even slices, rotating it around so it unfurled like a ream of parchment. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and he was all ‘haha no big deal’ about it.

Even the set up of eating is ritualistic.  Getting the table ready and placing the cutlery and the napkins just so, putting in the acid before the cream when you’re making your go-to  caper, lemon and white wine cream sauce (I am writing this more as a reminder to myself because I always forget which way to do it, and the reverse can yield gross curdled goop that makes me very sad).

It all comes back to Mindfulness.
I remember being furious with my mother when I was younger on one of the many occasions where she wouldn’t let us eat dinner in front of the TV. It was a really, really important episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the pre-DVR era and she simply couldn’t understand how my life would be RUINED if I didn’t get to watch it right then and there. It’s funny how perspective changes. Now I love the times we can sit together as a family, away from our computers and our virtual commitments even for a little while,  to spend time enjoying each other’s company and the food put before us. Recognising that shift in myself has been really recent and it’s been very profound. I still love TV and I still find myself eating and watching TV because it’s become such a habit and I lack the moral fibre necessary to take my own good advice. I am trying more and more to break free of that habit, recognising without judgement that I choose to move past that and focus on my food. It’s been a really, really, difficult transition but it’s also really really affirming and wonderfully satisfying. Who knew bringing full attention to food, however easy that may sound, could enact such a change in a person?

Mindfulness is something that will constantly be coming up on this blog. It’s something that many of us have heard about but few people really know what it means or how to incorporate it into their daily lives. I remember once I got made fun of so much while leading a cool-down in a dance class for calling the participants to ‘be mindful of their breath.’ They laughed and laughed (and I never led a cool down again) but it’s such a strengthening and calming action to do after a lot of physical activity and I wanted to share it.

For me, mindfulness is rooted in the idea of one pointed attention; that means living in the moment and savouring every aspect of worthy action.  By slowing down and devoting oneself to the task at hand, you can increase the level of satisfaction you get out of what you’re doing.  Eknath Easwaran,  one of the individuals whose work I turn to for spiritual guidance, explains that ‘everything we do should be worthy of our full attention.’ For the importance eating plays in our lives, we pay it very little attention. Easwaran explains that when we divide our attention, let’s say between drinking that cup of coffee you have in the morning and the news paper you’re reading, you’re really getting less benefit from each activity. You taste less, you enjoy less, you read multiple sentences over again because they didn’t really settle into your head the first time you read them. We can chock that forgetfulness and that separation up to the fact that our coffee hasn’t take affect, but if you take even a second to recognise yourself in the moment, you can feel yourself divided between those two activities. You can sense it, and it’s not the coffee’s fault. Even our most frantic Mondays can be calm and satisfying if we just took a little more time to do things we need to. 

It’s easier said than done. I know from experience that it requires practice, as all important and worthwhile activities do.

Why not take a weekend morning, when things are less busy around the house, and try to increase your mindfulness in your morning routine. If you feel your anxiety begin to peak, or you start readin’ and sippin’ at the same time, quietly and without judgement on yourself take a step back and begin again. Here are some tips to help increase your Mindful Eating:

1) Honour The Food

Know where your food comes from. It’s really difficult to trace a lot of the things we eat, but it’s not impossible. Recognise that time and energy went in to growing it, or that a real animal had a life (hopefully) nurtured by a farmer who cared for its well-being.
  • People often think that locavores and farmers market devotees are endlessly rich folk who have excess money to throw down on a bespoke cabbage that some dreadlocked crooner serenaded with Mozart  or Jack Johnson or whatever as it grew in its organic, climate controlled green house. That’s nonsense. When you start realising where your money goes on the cheaper food items, you realise they’re not cheap at all. They’re killing the environment and they’re subsidised through your taxes, so either way you’re paying for them even if it’s not at the register.
    Farm Subs
  • Instead you could choose to take the time and money to be actively involved in what goes on your plate. Choose to not be a drone and recognise the sacrifice that other living things have undertaken to give you that plate of food you’re eating.

Do you want to learn more about local diets? Check out the awesome story behind The Fife Diet and watch their new little film done to celebrate nearly 5 years of great work.

2) Engage Your Senses

All the taste you get, all the true enjoyment you get from food happens while it’s between your teeth and your gullet. Savour the time you have between taking your first bite and swallowing it. Savour the textures and the flavours. Food is sensory!

3) Be Mindful of portion size, ask ‘Am I hungry?

I am a boredom eater. I can be a secretive eater. If I am at the house alone and walk into the kitchen I will open the fridge- completely without thinking. I could do that about 5 times in just the afternoon before I wake up and realise “hey, wait, I’m not actually hungry and the food in the fridge is exactly how it was when I last checked an hour ago.”
  • Eat when you’re hungry and eat regularly so at meal times you can opt for smaller servings
  • . Research has been shown that the smaller the plate, the more likely your brain will feel full faster as less food will be needed to make the plate look overloaded.

4) Chew your food

  • I am not your mother, but you wouldn’t believe how often we don’t chew and swallow our food! And your mother wasn’t just trying to get you to be polite. Talking with your mouth full allows the food to pass into the stomach without chewing. You’re missing out on vital food enjoyment time and vital nutrients while bigger food pieces take longer to digest. If you take longer to eat you also feel fuller faster because you’re giving your body time to process what you’re putting into it. It’s a win win situation.

5) Slow Down

  • Follow Steps 1-4 and you pretty much have this covered.
  • Savour, enjoy, take time to appreciate that there are others who are not as fortunate as you to be eating the meal that you’re eating. If you feel like you’re speeding up, take a breath and reassert your choice to slow down.

6) Don’t skip meals!

  • Skipping meals slows metabolism, it makes you feel the need to eat bigger portions in one go, and you scarf everything down because you’ve put your body in starve mode. Don’t skip meals.
  • I have a few friends who get so wrapped up in their lives that they forget to eat. One of them sets reminders on their phones to jog their memory to eat. If you’re a serial meal avoider, even increasing your food intake from 1-2 meals per day to 3 counts towards more Mindful Eating. You’re taking the time to realise your body needs nourishment and that’s a very powerful thing.

 Let me know if any of those ideas have helped you, or what you do to slow down and enjoy your eating. I’d love to find out what works for you!

“Spiritual Nutrition transcends all cultural borders. It is a part of the original spiritual teachings in every country in the world; in every faith, all the way back to the ancient Essenes and the wisdom of the Rishis masters of India, regardless of our creed or culture. It was given to all of us as a tool, a step on the path to Enlightenment.” ~ W.Kacera

Bon Appétit!


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