Eat With Grace to Deepen Your Connection With Others and the Earth
Deb's Cherry Painting/Photo by Ruth Wilson
Eating with mindfulness and awareness may be one of the clearest pathways to understanding the soul/mind/body connection and can help strengthen our bond to the rest of the natural world.
It’s been more than a year since I hosted a large family dinner, but I’m still hurting from the experience.
I based my planning for the event around the idea that people, not food, would be my focus. In addition to nearby relatives, I also had guests coming from out of state. I was looking forward to the family gathering and the chance to spend some time together. I didn’t want cooking to get in the way of that, so I ordered a prepared meal for dinner. I will never do so again—I was so disappointed in both the product and the process—waiting in line, dealing with plastic containers and directions for reheating the food, the blandness of the food, and most importantly, the lack of interaction with friends and family in the preparation process.
I had forgotten an important lesson about food: Food can nurture the spirit as well as the body, and the preparation and sharing of food can nurture relationships. After that experience, I’ve intentionally changed my approach to preparing and eating meals. I give the process a great deal more thought and care than I did before. I focus on not just eating the food but savoring it. When I can, I involve others in the planning and preparation of a meal.
Recalling childhood experiences helped me reframe my approach to food. Some of my favorite memories relate to food—churning ice cream outside on a hot summer day, picking cherries from the trees in our yard, waiting for bread dough to rise and anticipating that first bite of freshly-baked bread, adding ingredients to the bowl as Mom prepared a batch of cookies, and delivering a sack lunch to Dad as he worked in the fields on our 80-acre farm.
I’ve also given some thought to what it means to eat with grace and have a relationship with food that includes attention to ethics as well as pleasure and practicality. I was first introduced to the idea of eating with grace through Tamar Adler’s writings. An accomplished chef, Tamar is also a cooking teacher and an author. To limit Tamar’s work to cooking, however, doesn’t do justice to what her teaching and writing actually entails. Tamar’s work focuses on living well, not just eating well. According to New York Magazine, one of Tamar’s books, An Everlasting Meal, “reads less like a cookbook than like a recipe for a delicious life.” That’s the recipe I’m looking for in my revised relationship with food.
What I’ve learned over the past year as I reflected on our common experience of eating is that eating well, in the sense of eating with grace, entails mindfulness and awareness; it may one of the clearest pathways to understanding the soul/mind/body connection. In this context, I’m reminded of the statement, “You are what you eat.” The food you eat—and how you eat it—has a bearing on your state of mind as well as your physical health.
In addition to understanding the physical and emotional aspects of our relationship with food, it’s also important to unpack how eating well relates to food ethics or the moral consequences of food choices. Food ethics considers the source of food and the effect the food industry has on the environment, as well as labor practices, the treatment of animals, and food shortages faced by many people around the world. Becoming more mindful of these social aspects of eating well influences my buying choices; I now grow some of my own food and shop at farmers’ markets whenever I can.
Another social side of eating well relates to how it can deepen our relationships with one another and with the rest of the natural world. A painting of a bowl of cherries in my office reminds me of this social dimension. Several months ago, a friend dropped by to deliver some cherries he had picked from the trees in his yard. I was very moved by his act of thoughtfulness and the beauty of the cherries. I took a picture of the cherries and later shared the picture and the story behind the cherries with another friend, Deb, who recently discovered the joy of painting. Deb did a painting of the cherries; and it’s this painting that now hangs in my office.
I’m still working to deepen my relationship with food. I use several simple practices that I find helpful. One practice involves really looking at the food I’m about to eat. I pause and pay close attention to such things as the colors of fruits and vegetables. I consider the source of the food. I think of the tree where the peach has grown and the field where the tomato ripened. I think of carrots and how they grow beneath the soil. At times, I take pictures of produce from my garden and enjoy watching the herbs grow in pots on my kitchen counter. I dedicate time to preparing food rather than trying to squeeze food preparation between other activities. I do this whether I’m alone or with other people.
I now see that I don’t have to make a choice between attending to people or attending to food. I can attend to both and, in the process, enhance my experience of being alive.
Embrace these 16 affirmations to help guide you down the path to mindful eating.