Given the hectic nature of my life, it is rare for me to find time to sit down for a meal and truly savor my food. I often eat on the go or at my desk, nibble on food here and there throughout the day, or scarf down a meal before dashing out the door. I’ve come to realize that eating this way has affected not only what and how much I eat, but it’s also detracted from the overall amount of enjoyment, nourishment and satisfaction I get from eating.
I decided that my dine-and-dash way of eating had to stop. Over the past month I have made a conscious effort to follow The Five Contemplations, which are mindful eating principles outlined in the book How To Eat, by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Han. It was during my participation in a house build project in Mexico, however, that I came to develop a more meaningful understanding of these guidelines and how to apply them to my way of eating.
The Five Contemplations
1. This food is a gift of the Earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard and loving work.
In Mexico I saw field after field of farms and crops. I met the workers- men, women and children- who work tirelessly in these fields from sun up to sun down planting and harvesting these crops, not for their own consumption but for consumers and profit. On average these workers earn $30 per week. Many of them can barely afford to feed themselves and their families.
It seems unfair and backwards that the people who labor to produce the food we eat often cannot afford this same food for themselves . When you buy your groceries or sit down to a meal, remember the souls across the globe who are working long days for minimal pay so that we may eat.
Also remember that without the soil, the sun and the rain we also would not have this food to eat. Now, before I eat a morsel of food, I give thanks to the Earth and to its workers for the abundance of food that I am blessed to consume.
2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.
So many times I have tossed food in my mouth without a single bit of awareness or gratitude, as if I was tossing trash into a garbage can. I cringe when I reflect on how mindlessly I have eaten in the past. They say if you have a roof over your head and food on your table that you are richer than you know. I realized in Mexico this powerful truth and that I have taken for granted how blessed I am to be able to afford not only food, but good quality food.
Think about it. There are people around the world who cannot afford to buy a loaf of bread, yet I can afford to buy lattes, organic foods and gourmet meals. I don’t flinch handing over five dollars for a golf-ball size protein ball at my favorite café. If I have been blessed to be able to afford to eat this way, the very least I can do is to give gratitude and thanks before consuming the food. Of course, now I see the better thing to do is put these five dollars towards feeding families in need.
The other part of this is to eat with mindfulness, which means eating with total awareness and engagement of your five senses. Eliminate distractions, stop multitasking and sit down to eat so that you can immerse yourself in the experience of eating. How does the food look? How does it smell? How does it taste? Be present for every bite from the moment you place it in your mouth and start to chew until it moves down your throat and into your stomach. Eating this way will not only heighten the pleasure your derive from eating, but it will also enable you to be more in tune with your physical sensations of fullness so that you can stop eating when you are satisfied rather than mindlessly overeating.
3. May we recognize and transform unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
When I was stuck in my eating disorder, I was entrenched in a destructive habit in which I would binge and purge on food. Looking back, my heart aches as I realize how much money I wasted on wasted food. I wasn’t consuming food for nourishment, I was consuming food for punishment. It was a wasteful, greedy and self-destructive illness. I exercised no moderation when binging on pizzas and cakes and cookies.
Now in recovery, I recognize that the food and dollars I wasted on my illness could have been food and dollars spent to feed people in need. With this new perspective, I am now very cognizant at meal times of how much I am eating, grateful of the food I am putting in my body and mindful to not be wasteful. I think about the families I met in Mexico, and how little food they had to eat, and find it much easier to say no to seconds, multiple courses and desserts.
There are lots of other behaviors that are worth examining and changing in an effort to be less greedy and eat with moderation. Think about how much food you throw away on a weekly basis because it has gone bad, or how often you frequent the “all-you-can-eat” buffets in your neighborhood. Examine your own eating habits and be honest with yourself about small changes you can make in an effort to embrace this contemplation.
4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that reduces the suffering of living beings, stops contributing to climate change and heals and preserves our precious planet
There is accumulating evidence that the production of meat is harmful for the planet and the consumption of meat is harmful for health. According to The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations one of the most important ways to save the planet is to reduce the meat industry by 50 percent.
If the entire US did not eat meat for just one day a week it is estimated this would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles. Let that sink in. Simply eating a vegetarian diet, or at least decreasing your consumption of meat, can make a massive difference in both the health of the planet as well as the your own health.
5. We accept this food so that we may nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our community and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings
Food brings together families, friends, communities, and even strangers. It bonds people. It nourishes not only bodies but also souls. While serving food to the impoverished villagers in Mexico, I realized that we are one and the same. Race, ethnicity, nationality, language, skin color, or socio economic status mattered little. We were all made of the same flesh, and thus are all brothers and sisters of the same human race.
There was an immense sense of love and togetherness that pulsated through the room and my body during these meal times. I served each plate with love, blessing the food before placing it in front of the child and praying that this love would be absorbed into the food and then into their bodies. Imagine what would happen if we made every meal a time to come together, to heal, to share, to love and to support one another.