Columns / Discourse / October 23, 2008

Mindful eating

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is eating as meditation. Often when people eat, especially in the caf, they fill up a plate with food, try to scarf it down in ten minutes, and fail to do so. This wastes lots of food. While they are eating, they are thinking about some problem or idea they need to work out, where they need to go, how stressed they are, etc.

But when you rush, you waste the time for eating. All time should be enjoyed, but especially time spent eating because all of humanity depends on eating. Everything you have ever done and will ever do is partly the effect of nutrients you consume. When you were born, you were mostly composed of food your mother had consumed, as she was composed of food her mother had consumed. We literally are what we eat.

Eating is a beautiful act, and food is really delicious when you take the time to actually taste it. Eating is not something to “get out of the way” so you can do something “more important”. Eating is so important that without it, you could do nothing else.

But getting that food to you is not an effortless process. Take a moment to think of all it takes to get food to your plate. The knowledge, the fossil fuels, the hard work of people far away and right here in Dining Services, preparing your food.

These processes are not always conducted in an ethical way. Many food corporations underpay their workers, use processes destructive to the environment, and/or put dangerous chemicals in our food.

Other corporations take even more insidious action. In March of 2007, Chiquita Banana was fined $25 million by the federal government for supporting terrorism, more specifically for paying $1.7 million to the AUC, the largest paramilitary in Colombia. Check it out. There is much to think about when it comes to food.

Guidelines for Mindful Eating: (this is just my method, not the only way)

1. Take only the food you need.

2. Eat slowly, sitting down, and breathing. Focus on your food and the presence of people around you.

3. Chew a lot, 25-50 times a bite. This helps you digest better (your saliva is the first part of digestion) and because you digest better, you get more nutrients and thus need to eat less. This is healthier for you and puts less stress on the planet to feed you.

4. Remain silent (but enjoy yourself!) until all people have finished eating or the group decides to take a talking break. I like silence because it helps you focus on all the other things, (chewing, contemplation). If you want to talk, signal to the group, wait for everyone to finish chewing and let you know they are ready to listen to what you have to say.

Also, when you move your tongue around in your mouth while you chew (i.e., make out with your food) you get a more complex sense of the taste of the food. This is because different parts of the tongue are better at receiving different tastes.

I try to do this every meal, every day. In the caf, I use a cardboard sign that says “Please eat with me. Mindful eating in progress. Silence, por favor” to let people know I am practicing. I encourage you to join me. If you would like to schedule a mindful meal together, shoot me an email. But you do not need me to eat mindfully. Go ahead and try it and bring your friends along for the ride. Good luck.

Mindfulness is a means for a greater ability to concentrate. If you are interested in the above, or peace in general I recommend any of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books. Creating True Peace changed my life ten pages at a time, and influenced many of the ideas above, though similar incantations can be found in many places.

The Five Contemplations to recite before meals (here taken from Creating True Peace):

“This food is a gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky and much loving work.

May we live and eat in mindfulness so as to be worthy of it.

May we transform our unskillful states of mind and learn to eat in moderation.

May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.

May we accept this food to realize the path of understanding and love.”

Joey Firman

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