Mindfulness: “When You’re Eating, Eat”

By Catherine Winter

You know someone is worth keeping in your life when they hold a mirror up to your hypocrisy so you can learn from it. Recently, a friend (whom I shall refer to as “Sensei” henceforth) said to me: “If you want to encourage others to consider food as sacred and be mindful of what they’re eating, you should probably start by doing so yourself.” This was in reference to me cramming a sandwich into my mouth one-handed while typing feverishly on my laptop, paying absolutely no attention to what I was eating because, well, I was working. I had more important things to do, right?

As long as I didn’t get mustard onto my keys, I really didn’t care what lunch consisted of. In that moment, I could have been eating rat sphincters doused in Tabasco sauce and it wouldn’t have registered as weird: I was eating to end hunger, not to nourish myself. How many of us do this on a regular basis? Staring at our phones while shovelling some type of food product in our faces, or mindlessly moving hand to mouth as we gawp at the latest Netflix release?

eating while on the phone, smartphone, smartphone and food, phone and eating

Mindful, not Mind-Full

I asked Sensei what it is I should be doing to be more mindful while dining, and he just shook his head. “When you’re eating, eat.” That’s it. That when food is being eaten, that is literally the only thing that’s happening in my world; the only thing I’m honouring with my attention. No phone or iPad within reach, no TV or radio on in the background. Preferably not even speaking to others for a few minutes: just. eating.

He suggested that each bite be approached with reverence, with full appreciation of where the food came from, and the effort that went into preparing it. As I eat, attention should be paid to subtle flavours, textures, how each bite makes me feel, what subtle differences exist depending on which morsels came together in that particular forkful. Make each dish as appetizing for all the senses as possible, and then honour it by giving it my full, undivided attention. Chew thoroughly instead of gulping, and imagine the nutrients then flowing through my body, nourishing every cell.

That’s a beautiful way to approach nourishment, isn’t it?

chopping onion, food preparation, onion, chopping onions

Mindfulness Begins During Preparation

I’m taking steps to ensure that mindfulness doesn’t just begin when I sit down to eat a meal, but when I begin to prepare it. Since I often gather bits from my garden to incorporate into dishes, I try to step barefoot out into the yard so I can connect properly with the earth beneath my feet.
When I harvest vegetables or snip herbs for seasoning, I take a moment to give thanks to the plant: I attune myself to its energy, and appreciate its growth, and how its form will help to nourish my own body.

As I prepare the ingredients—chopping, grating, slicing, sautéeing—I don’t have music on, nor any shows blaring in the background. I feel the vibration in my knife as it thunks through a carrot or onion, or the “shusshhh” sound that happens when I slice through a head of lettuce. I can tell that my onions are caramelising properly based on the deep, gold-brown scent they release, and I know when to turn the heat down beneath my soup pot when I hear the liquid dance into a rolling boil.

I wipe down the table, set it with beautiful dish ware, maybe some flowers or herbs in a vase. Whether I’m eating alone or with others, I try to set the stage as for a special event, albeit a small, gentle one. The food is plated or ladled with care, and garnished in appreciation. After all, these beautiful ingredients deserve to be showcased.

goddess bowl, green goddess, hummus, vegetable bowl

Some people have a “no phones at the table” rule, others discuss the food with other diners so everyone has a chance to express what they’re tasting, what they appreciate about the meal, etc. Do you try to cultivate mindfulness with regard to the food you eat? What techniques do you use?

Let us know!

 

 

Victory is Sustainable: Local, Seasonal Food is the Way to Grow

By Catherine Winter

The first thing I saw when I woke this morning was an article about food security that a dear friend of mine had sent me. Although the piece was about food shortages in Great Britain, the subject matter is something that all of us can relate to, regardless of our location. Most of the food sold in grocery stores across the UK is shipped in from mainland Europe: all those tomatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, and peppers that British people like to eat year-round have to be imported from Mediterranean countries, but inclement weather has destroyed countless crops there, leaving British supermarkets with empty shelves.

This is obviously not just a problem that people in the UK are contending with. Here in rural Quebec, I’ve often seen single heads of broccoli or cauliflower priced at $8 apiece in January or February, and I won’t even tell you how much I’ve paid for lemons or avocados. South America provides most of our produce during our winter months, and when crop failures occur there, prices quadruple here.

emptyshelves

For several years now, we have all been urged to eat more locally and seasonally, but that really isn’t just a serving suggestion anymore, if you’ll pardon that (horrible) pun. With climate shifts happening around the world, we really cannot rely on produce grown in distant lands to fill our plates: all it takes is a sudden freak hailstorm or heat wave to obliterate an entire crop, and we’re left hungry. The paltry bits of produce that do make it onto shelves are hideously overpriced, and are also rationed so people can’t hoard them.

Thanks to global trade, we have all become very spoiled when it comes to our eating habits. Most of us here in the northern hemisphere have the luxury of being able to enjoy the same iceberg lettuce salads in January that we eat in July, and markets are generally packed with strawberries for Valentine’s day in the dead of February. This is a far cry from what our ancestors were used to eating during the colder months: sure, many of them canned and pickled summer fruits and vegetables to enjoy as occasional indulgences over the winter, but as far as fresh vegetables went, they’d have eaten mostly root vegetables and hardy greens like cabbage and kale, in hearty, warming fare such as soups, stews, and porridges.

Some people aren’t even aware of what seasonal eating really means, or they have misconceptions that the only good, real foods are available in summer and autumn—that in wintertime, they’d be relegated to tree bark and waxy rutabagas (and they have no idea wtf to do with rutabagas). They may not realise that hardy greens like brassicas and lettuces can be grown right through the winter in most growing zones, that plenty of food can be grown indoors, and that many types of thick-skinned produce (like squash, pumpkin, apples, etc.) can stay fresh right through the winter months if stored properly, such as in sand or straw. A wonderful bowl of curried, roasted squash soup with goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds is a perfect example of seasonal winter cuisine, and it doesn’t sound all that terrible, does it?

soup

To many people, however, root vegetables and such might not sound like the most appetizing fare, considering how most of us are accustomed to the luxury of imported fruits and veg. We may crave cherries and watermelon in January, but eating seasonal, local fare is a much more sustainable practice in the long run. Continued erratic weather patterns can disrupt food security everywhere, and if we really want to ensure that we don’t go hungry, then we have to take matters into our own hands. This means cultivating our own food wherever and whenever possible, and buying local produce that’s in season.

The solution may sound a bit extreme and paranoid, but if we take a look at how prevalent crop failure has been worldwide over the last few years, it’s really not all that extreme at all, is it?

urbanfarmDuring the second World War, many of our grandparents, or even great-grandparents at this point, cultivated what were then known as “Victory Gardens“. Since the food that was grown on most farms went to feeding servicemen involved in the war effort, food shortages became the norm across North America and Great Britain. As such, just about every family with a patch of yard space tried to grow as much food as possible. Front and back yards were transformed into vegetable gardens, and local sports fields and golf courses were turned into allotment gardens for people who didn’t have yards in which to grow their own food.

You may be aware of the  “Food, Not Lawns” movement that’s been gaining traction over the last couple of decades, and its base concept has never been more powerful than right now. Lawns are pretty much useless leftovers from a time when people grew grass in order to show that they were wealthy enough that they didn’t need a garden in which to grow their own food, but people all over the world are discarding that ridiculous idea and realising just how wonderful it is to take an active role in their own food security. Some people are even looking back at how wartime gardens were designed in order to inform their own gardening plans.

ww2-victory-garden

The chart above uses a 25 x 50 foot plot example to plan out a family’s food cultivation, but a hell of a lot can be grown in even a fraction of that space. Square foot gardening, vertical trellises, permaculture techniques such as keyhole gardens or spirals… there are countless techniques that can be used to maximise space and grow as much as possible in whatever space is available.

Food can be grown anywhere. If you have a sunny window, a balcony, an urban patio or a suburban backyard, you can grow at least some of your own food. You can revel in sweet green peas in spring and summer, tomatoes and potatoes in autumn, kale and beets in wintertime. Whatever isn’t eaten immediately can be preserved to be eaten over the winter: you can pickle your carrots and cucumbers, transform cabbage into sauerkraut, make strawberries into jam, freeze green beans.

It’s about time that we stop relying on far-away countries to provide our food for us, and take our nourishment into our own hands: it doesn’t require much space, and the future of food security pretty much depends on us doing so.

canning-food