I often eat “mindlessly,” which to me means I shove food in my mouth without focus on my food or on my eating.
This post shares my own reflections and experiences on practices before (and during) eating. I recognize giving prayers before meals will vary widely based on one’s creed and belief system. Folks will see differently the goals of prayer and mindful eating: as entirely similar, or entirely separate, or somewhere in between.
Growing up with Christian parents, we said a prayer, or “grace,” at dinner and holiday meals. It was the same short rhyme every time, chanted together in a singsong way. At the time I didn’t give too much thought about what it meant beyond what we were saying: thank you God for making our food possible. From my view as a kid, it was less a spiritual practice and more a tradition that temporarily kept us from digging into our delicious meal. (There was some satisfaction in calling out anyone who snuck an unblessed dinner roll.)
This past winter I spent my holiday break at an all-inclusive resort. No longer in a Christian household, partner and I said no grace before our meals. Instead, we just helped ourselves, over and over. We arrived excited at the prospect of all-inclusive buffets, but after a week left feeling over-indulgent and mildly sick of food.
On the way home I flipped through the free inflight airplane media, and listened to a 10-minute Headspace meditation on mindfulness and eating. Like many mindful eating meditations, it encouraged slow eating, using all the senses to enjoy the food, and appreciating the feeling of food and fullness.
The mediation also walked me through visualizing where the food I was about to eat came from: what were the ingredients, who prepared the food, and how it travelled to arrive on my plate. Despite how often my partner and I talked on our holiday about the vast quantities of food we ate or were going to eat, the Headspace meditation was a reminder of how infrequently I literally imagine the origins of my food right before I consume it.
With hours left on the plane, I started to reflect on the differences between grace and gratitude before meals, as I understood them. In my experience, grace is a religious or spiritual practice, while mindful eating is intended to be a health and wellness practice. At my family table, grace was said using the same words and focused on expressing gratitude to the indirect food creator. This meditation I just did led me to gratitude thinking that was contextual and changing; my appreciation of the direct creators of my food would be different every time, depending on what food I was about to eat.
For me, there was one more difference: the mindful eating “gratitude” practice led me to thoughts on the ethics of my food consumption. I was encouraged to be curious: What were the conditions under which people produced and transported and served my food? What would be done with the food that wasn’t eaten?
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I realize there are valid critiques of mindfulness practice, such as how it puts the burden of systemic inequity on individuals to “meditate” their way out of their complex living situations.
However, this year (as part of my WOTY commitment), I’m going to explore what I see as benefits of being more mindful in my own eating this year by incorporating more gratitude reflections. In addition to helping my health, mindful eating can be a reminder of—and an expression of gratitude for—the effort and sacrifice people make to grow, make, transport, prepare, and serve my food.
Eating mindfully requires privilege, but perhaps it is because of my privilege I must eat more mindfully. I hope this practice will help me to eat more in alignment with my values: not just how but also what and where I choose to eat. For instance, I think next time our family should plan an alternative vacation to an all-inclusive. The more I eat mindfully, the harder it becomes hard to ignore the waste and other unsustainable practices that may be persistent in such resorts.
I am not going to return to saying grace the way I used to as a child. But I hope that when I incorporate gratitude into mindful eating, it will lead me to think more about not just my own health but also the broader effects of my (often “mindless”) food consumption.