As farm-to-school programs, community gardens, CSAs, and farmer’s markets grow in number, more individuals are participating in and gaining an appreciation for the entire food cycle, from growing their food to procuring, preparing, cooking, and savoring it. First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous White House Garden will continue under the stewardship of new First Lady Melania Trump, who said: “Gardening teaches us the fundamentals in care and the evolution of living things, all while inspiring us to nurture our minds and to relax and strengthen our bodies.”
Here at A Mindful Meal, I’m not just a psychologist and mindful eating educator, but I’m also a cook, hobby farmer, and food justice activist. I love food from just about every angle, and part of my mission is to help reconnect you to meaningful experiences with food, too.
In the book Mindful Eating, Dr. Jan Chosen Bays, MD, a physician and well-respected Zen Buddhist leader, engages readers in an exercise she calls “Looking Deeply into Our Food,” which takes us through the origins of our food. Imagine the person who stocked a particular food item – a box of raisins, a loaf of bread, a carton of milk; the driver who delivered the food to the store; the farms that tended to the trees, plants, or livestock. Dr. Bays reminds us of something that is said before every meal at Plum Village, the Zen practice center founded by Thich Nhat Hanh: “In this food I see clearly the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence.”
Water nourished your food. Sun nourished your food. Soil and many tiny organisms nourished your food. Your food has a story, and a family; it possesses deep roots that likely go back hundreds of years. The seeds of your food may have come from a landscape far, far away from your kitchen. Your food may have been grown, picked, handled, and delivered by someone who looks similar to you. Or very different.
We are united as beings in our desire to live, eat, and thrive. By fully showing up with awareness for our meals, we are honoring our bodies, the food itself, and the many individuals and complex systems that sustain us.
This morning while I was engaged in a short morning sit, my daughter peeked her head into the room. She was holding her bunny lovey and several other stuffed animals under one arm, and watched silently until I gestured that she could come in.
Over the remaining fifteen minutes, she sat, scooted, scampered, created a fort of meditation cushions and yoga blocks for her orange-and-black stripped Tiger, and only occasionally spoke aloud to me, quickly falling back into quiet when I put one finger to my lips. This is noteworthy for my “spirited” child who brings a loud, energetic presence into our daily lives. I suspect that something about my own intentional stillness this morning – and the fact that I’ve been slowly introducing mindfulness to her, over the years – contributed to her response.
Perhaps something in the stillness called out to her, to her own busy body, as well. Read More
“Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight…” (Mary Oliver, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass)
Our relationship with food can reveal something about who we are, where we’ve been, or where we hope to head in the future; how we respond to hunger and our needs for nourishment, both individually and collectively as a culture.
Several weekends ago, I attended a workshop for the first time at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, on the Oregon Coast. What a peaceful, scenic campus, set back in the hollow of an old growth forest. From their website: “By helping others discover more about their core creative selves and their connections to nature, the Sitka Center works to fulfill its mission of expanding the relationships between art, nature and humanity.”
The workshop I attended was on Sustenance and Food Writing; together, we explored published work by various authors, as well as past and current experiences with food, well-loved recipes, family mealtimes, and food-related travels. My fellow writers came from all walks of life but shared a passion for food, along with an equally thoughtful, poignant collection of their own work on this topic. Read More
When walking, just walk. When eating, just eat. This might sound simple, but not many of us approach our daily activities with such presence. Because when we’re eating, we’re often scrolling through our emails, surfing the browsers on our smartphones, maybe even driving or talking or doing something else multi-task-y. You might be thinking: Who has the time to do Just One Thing? Read More
Check out this sneak peak of a new book on mindful eating designed for young children – reminiscent of the infamous raisin exercise, it had my 4 year old daughter enthusiastically devouring apples with renewed interest. She’s since moved on to a near obsessive fascination with eggs, but who says food can’t be nutritious AND an entire adventure in its own right!
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you have ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott, Collected Poems 1948-1984.
It’s hard to believe, but we’re on the brink of another whirlwind holiday season. We’ve just emerged from Halloween and now there’s no stopping our NW winter weather and the turkey- and tinsel-laden events of the holiday season. Personally, as I mentioned in a previous post about my own leanings toward eye hunger, I love this time of the year. If I could eat up the orange/gold/rose-colored leaves and autumn-inspired decor, I would – and admittedly, in our food choices, some of us might try. Eye hunger (or other types of “hunger”) can fool us into believing that we have a bodily or nutritional need that must be filled, and it’s especially easy to be tempted down this path if we’re caught up in frenetic activities of a holiday season.
In the past month, I’ve led several free presentations on Mindful Eating During the Holidays, held at New Seasons stores in the Portland area. While the holiday season can be joyous, it can also introduce extra stress into our lives or bring up feelings of grief or longing. With the increased prevalence of potlucks, candy dishes, and food-themed celebrations, this season can be the recipe (no pun intended) for “emotional” or out-of-control eating behaviors. But what if there was also a unique opportunity lurking behind all of the busyness and celebration? An invitation to pay attention in an intentional and curious manner to what your experience really is during this holiday season….as it relates to both the food on your plate, and all of those other moments of your life? Read More
Food can be a source of immense pleasure and enjoyment, particularly if you take the time to savor each moment of eating through all of your senses. Contrasted with mindless or out-of-control eating (what food? who ate it? where did it go?), slowing down to engage in mindful eating of a food item can be a life-changing event. Literally. I’ve had workshop participants realize things about food that they’ve been eating all of their life, such as: “A raisin tastes like that?? Really?” And: “I don’t even like this food – why do I keep eating it?” Others have discovered, contrary to their expectations, that eating just one piece of a food item really was enough to satiate their hunger, particularly if they allowed themselves to fully experience their food. Who knew? Read More
“Mindful eating” has been gaining popularity, but as Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program) once said, the practice of mindfulness itself is “deceptively simple.” How easy is it, really, to pay attention to our present experience as we engage in an activity such as eating? As you may already know, it’s actually quite difficult. Read More