A Mindful Eating Revolution

Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce peels back the layers of the mindful eating movement, from the personal to the global.

Eliza Greenman, Heirloom Apple Grower. Photograph by Joshua Simpson

Eating a raisin, or a grape, an apple or a pear—slowly with attention—has become a standard part of many mindfulness programs. It’s no surprise. The first thing we usually put our attention on in meditation is our breath, because without that, well, we’re dead. But the next most obvious thing to put attention on is eating, because without that, well, we’re dead.

We don’t eat as frequently as we breathe, but it’s not far behind. We take somewhere between 50 and 100 bites per day. By the time a person is 50, they’ve eaten something like 55,000 meals and taken in the neighborhood of 2 million bites. Nothing except for sex engages your senses in such an intimate and direct way.

Eating is a realm that’s fascinating to pay attention to. For one thing, when we shine the light of our inquiring mind on eating, we see so easily the connection between body and mind. If you pick up something you crave, take a good look at it, and start to bring it to your nose and lips, you can experience the juices starting to flow—and how that affects your state of mind. You get to see how strong a force desire can be and how it can color your experience. If your brain chemicals can get this jazzed up about a cookie, imagine what goes on when you’re mentally constructing your ideal life and how you’re going to get there. It’s easy to see why hunger and desire cause people to do such crazy and destructive—and wildly creative—things.

At the personal level of mindful eating, there’s lots to learn in noticing the space between hand and mouth. As one meditator said about tasting a raisin, “Hell, I usually just gulp down one of those little boxes before I even notice what they taste like!”

There’s another element to mindful eating, though, and it speaks to the connection of our personal desires and habits and frames of mind to everyone else’s, our “interconnected world,” as policy makers— and mindfulness teachers everywhere— are fond of saying. One young law student in California was doing the raisin meditation, and not long after noticing the taste and texture of the raisin, he thought of where it came from—because of where he came from. Generations of his family had been farm workers, striving to make a living. He thought about who was responsible for making it possible to eat this food.

There’s an element to mindful eating beyond the personal. It has to do with paying attention to our “interconnected world.”

That’s a bigger version of mindfulness, of mindful eating. Some people call it awareness: paying attention to our relationship to a larger world and how it fits together. Where food is concerned, it’s vitally important for us to pay attention to how we obtain our food, not only because if we eat bad food, we get sick real fast, but also because if food isn’t grown with care, it can damage our long-term health, our land, our rivers, our air, and our oceans. It already is.

That’s why the mindful eating revolution is running smack dab into a revolution in the way we’re growing our food.

And who will grow it.

The average farmer in America is almost 60. We need a new crop of farmers. Where will they come from? They are starting to come out of the ranks of young, educated, dedicated people concerned about the earth and willing to put their shoulder into it. There’s also a new breed of chefs figuring out how we can have food that tastes great, is nutritious, and is sustainably grown. They’re extraordinarily mindful about food.

So, the next time you bring something to your lips, pause to take a moment to appreciate the people who grew the food, devised the recipe, and prepared the meal. Then enjoy every bite.

This article also appeared in the April 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.