A commentary by Manuel E. González
When we look back at our lives, what are our most treasured memories? We often remember special moments with our loved ones, our friends and family, the people most important to us. Whether those moments are big or small, these memories are the ones we cherish. When we look at the life that we still have ahead of us what moments can we envision that would make us happiest? Probably more of those incredibly precious moments, scarcer than we imagine, that we will have with the ones we love.
Would any of us envision having special memories of ourselves and others staring at a computer or phone screen? I seriously doubt that.
Likely there will be more than a few special memories based around food, a drink, and a table. Like sharing that familiar home-cooked meal with those that we love on a holiday or special event. Or like the memories of that special restaurant, the buzz, the waiters circling the tables, the clinging of the crystal, the aromas of the food, the textures, the taste, and that special bottle of wine that we shared, only that one time, with those that we adore. I met my wife in Paris, many years ago, in a time when we wrote letters and rarely called, and we developed an intense bond that would bring us together many years later, a bond created in cafes, restaurants, bistros, and bars. Endless walks around the city, the theatre, live music, museums, and French lessons. Around people, noise and senses. Always being fully present in this magical environment.
At the end of a long day, at the end of a trip, of an event, have you ever looked back on your mealtime and considered how, not what, you ate? Did you throw down an egg McMuffin in your car when speeding off to work? Did you eat lunch at your desk? Dinner in front of the TV? Did you turn off your phone? I’m not sure many of us consider the fact that how we eat can be just as important as what we eat.
Grab-and-Go Mentality of Eating Does Nothing for the Mind or the Body
When it comes to “how” we eat, we often tend to blow off the importance of family meals, mindful eating (just eating), eating without working or driving, being present to our surroundings and savoring the food and the company with whom we are sharing it with. Rarely do we relish our food while enjoying some alone time, one on one, with the food. We make excuses to eat on the run and the reasons for those excuses seem to us more important than eating in a setting that brings people together and releases our minds from the day to day stress that is so prevalent now in our society. The stress that constrains our minds and limits our creativity.
These are occasions when the “how” of eating is greatly emphasized.
Family meals, meals with friends, special events, work meetings, dates, and social gatherings often place great emphasis on what food is being served. These are occasions when the “how” of eating is greatly emphasized. Unfortunately, nowadays, these events are almost the only time we place importance on the “how” of eating. When it comes to the rest of our meals we seem to have a mindless get-it-done mentality to eating. Grab-and-go eating is now all-pervasive.
At this point, we have to bring back the importance of the “how” of eating. This “how” of eating leads to the nourishment of the mind as well as the body. We all know the importance of the mind-body connection.
Mindfulness is the most important practice of wisdom traditions such as Buddhism and Yoga. It’s the idea that whatever you are doing at the moment, just do that. If you are walking, just walk. If you are working, just work. There is no need to think or do anything else. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of multitasking. When other thought streams outside of the moment are introduced, the wandering mind can become a chaotic and suffering mind, always reaching for something to take us out of the precious moment.
With mindfulness, eating becomes a joyful and transcendent experience, fully sensorial, that we are so sadly missing these days.
So eating mindfully is just eating. What happens when we “just eat”? We begin to see things and experience things during the course of a meal that we have been blindly missing. Mindful eating puts us in direct contact with all aspects of our meal, bringing all of our senses to the table. It elevates the experience of eating beyond just getting food into our stomachs so we can move on to whatever we have to do during the day. It makes the experience of eating one of the most important things you will do during the day and creates an extraordinary experience between you, the food you are eating, the people you are eating it with and the place where you are eating. With mindfulness, eating becomes a joyful and transcendent experience, fully sensorial, that we are so sadly missing these days.
Eat with Others PLUS be Present
Eating with others is a fully sensorial way to enjoy time together. It is a time-proven way to create memories and special moments. What better excuse is there to catch up with a friend than to have a great meal together?
What better way to learn about the day’s activities of your kids and spouses than to have dinner together away from computers, TVs and phones?
Studies have shown that kids function better in many aspects of their lives when they have at least 5 meals a week together with their families. They perform better in school, they get along better with their friends, and they are generally better adjusted to the societal pressures they experience throughout the day. Daily meals enjoyed together can give a family the structure it needs to thrive in this busy world we live in. I have two kids now in college, they recently confessed how much they missed having dinner together with their Mom, their little brothers and I. Ironically, before they left, they used to complain about us being so strict about keeping those moments.
Meals together, being fully present at shared meals, and the opportunity to share an almost transcendent moment that the rest of the day rarely affords us is what we should be looking for. We can share in the joy of conversation and the joy of great food and “disappear” into this activity, allowing us to forget about the worries of the day and just enjoy a moment together being fully present in this very special moment.
Ultimately, a meal, whether eaten together or alone, should be good for our well being and enjoyed fully, not just a perfunctory chore that has to be carried out three times a day. Food is sensorial. It should delight and make our lives better. We should enjoy the aroma of food, the colors, the aesthetics, flavors, and sounds of foods. Food should create dimensions of pleasure that we would be hard-pressed to recreate artificially through a contrived experience.
When enjoyed with others, the whole experience of cooking together, having a great drink, serving, sharing, and enjoying all the sensorial aspects of it should be a transcendent experience where we can all unite as one and share a special moment in time.
When enjoyed alone, we have an opportunity to explore the joy of food in depth by giving our full attention to the experience mindfully and without distraction. We should spend more time enjoying our food, and all of its many facets and dimensions and allow it to nourish our bodies as well as our minds and spirits. Food can uplift us in immeasurable ways if we just allow it.