Mindful eating


Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherston, via http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

I have been questioning my motivation on all things lately — inclusive of food and eating. When I stumbled onto the book Mindless Eating, I couldn’t help but smile. I like to think that I savour most mouthfuls individually, but just reading the precis got me to thinking: how often do I eat mindlessly?

How often do you eat mindlessly?

For me, mindful eating is more than just knowing what and when we’re eating. It’s about knowing what is in our food & what has gone into its making. Like knowing that the animal rennet, or rennin, that is used to make hard cheese comes from animal (usually unweaned calf) intestines. Like being aware that wine is often clarified with skim milk powder, egg white or fish products. Like an understanding that not every food additive, source or permutation ends up on a label.

This brings me to my next train of thought: eating organically. When I studied chemistry, I thought that organic just referred to the presence of carbon atoms in compounds, usually in some combination with other elements, like oxygen and hydrogen. What does it actually mean when it comes to food?

Organic farmers and food producers grow and produce food without using synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers). They do not use genetically modified (GM) components, or expose food to irradiation.

Animal welfare and environmental sustainability are important issues for organic farmers. The term organic can also cover animal produce, such as eggs, which are free range rather than from caged (battery) hens.

So organic eating is really just healthy, ethical eating. [I fuzzily recall Business Ethics 101 and Albert Schweitzer’s sentiments on ethics and life: “A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.”]

I think the time has long since passed for us to blindly believe in labels or a nodding expert. We now have to verify what we are reading and what it means, or do our own research from scratch. For example,

  • Do we buy that packet of x and trust that the lack of additive on the label means that it is not there, instead of researching as to whether or not there is just too little of the addition to warrant its listing?
  • Do we stand at the back of our butcher’s and watch to see whether or not they add red food dye to the red meat, or do we trust them?
  • Do we make the time to visit that free-range farm, or do we just buy and believe and feel socially responsible as a result?
  • Do we blindly trust in Sam Neill and his eat-more-red-meat-it’s-good-for-you spiel (with his vegetarian sidekick…)?

How can we be sure of what we’re buying and putting into our bodies?

On her site, Play with your Food, Jane de Graaff (aka “Intrepid in the Kitchen- JdG”) investigates the origin of the food that goes onto her table, so that she can “look it in the eye” (see her post of 22 April for a great example). I love this idea. I have often thought of visiting a free range egg farm, a canned goods production line, an abbattoir… Although I could foresee a return to veganism if I did that, and I don’t know if I’m quite prepared to take that step.

For a while now, I have been confronting those perfect plastic packages of deidentified sinew with the thought that I need to know where it has really come from. Which part of the animal am I eating, and how was it used? How was the animal killed? What happened to the rest of it? What are the alternatives to this pound of flesh?

I have also been rethinking my stance on offal, which I have traditionally avoided for health and gross-out reasons. If I am prepared to eat a little part of a cow, then why would I not use every part of it in some way? It seems almost disrespectful to discard parts of an animal if I am sanctioning the loss of life by way of my eating habits. [And yet, tripe still lacks appeal…]

Diet & nutrition are key factors in eating mindfully. Darya Pino’s excellent site, Summer Tomato, focuses on the science and nutrition of food, as well as its enjoyment, by virtue of her scientific background and personal passion. I am particularly enamoured with her For the Love of Food editions.

Zen food is another aspect I have looked into recently. My beautiful friend, E, sent me a fascinating link in the form of a comment on my 21 March post. It was about the documentary “How to Cook Your Life”, and I managed to locate Edward Brown’s website for reference purposes. I have been meaning to order a copy of the DVD, which was released in May.

Zen food is about eating vital foods and keeping nutrition simple, while also being completely present and involved in food preparation. Eating is just as much about the care that goes into the making of the meal as the nutritional content of the components themselves. I love that notion. It helps me not to wish away those chunks of life I used to feel were a waste of time, eg. the waiting time for marinades; tender stews, soups and curries that are the slow work of hours; whipping meringue with a whisk. It is so true that pastry responds to a loving touch.

I recently made my own bread for the first time. I milled pepitas, sunflower seeds and linseed and added them to yeast, water, salt and baker’s flour. My Thermomix did all the kneading for me and all I had to do was bake it in the oven. Even though it turned out perfectly, I felt hollow. So what was the problem?

In the end, it didn’t feel like I had done anything to deserve the end result. I almost felt like I had bought a loaf from the local bakery. For me, cooking like this is not nearly as satisfying as making food from scratch and it feels like I am cheating. Of course, that could be my addiction to achievement shining through. That said, I would not have had the time to make the bread at all if it wasn’t for my expensive kitchen appliance [and I would not have had this if it wasn’t for my birthday. Thanks, mum & dad!].

With so many demands on my time and so few hours in the day, maybe this is a feeling I need to get used to: cooking as a necessity rather than an outlet. And with this realisation, somehow the world has lost some of its shine.



  1. What makes your article particularly interesting for me is that your last line summarises my thoughts while I was reading every line previous: "With so many demands on my time and so few hours in the day…". Is it realistic for us to analyse or obsess over what we eat to the point that we no longer have time to enjoy what we're eating?

    I've had limited tolerance for veganism or vegetarianism, because it's often conjoined with a moral guilt-trip. I respect that we eat more meat than we need (more food, even), but I don't think the solution is to stop *entirely*. Even those who recommend cutting down ("No Meat Mondays!") are ultimately wanting to see me stop eating meat entirely, and that insults my intelligence as much as makes me want to rebel against them (not very mature, I know).

    I think at the end of the day I'd rather die younger from additive consumption than to lose my enjoyment of food (and life) by searching for additives. In the meantime, let me eat cake ^_^


  2. h, i am totally absolutely a mindless eater for sure!!! how any parent can be a mindful eater for most of the time, i'd like to see that! 😉 and speaking of taking time to taste the food, i reckon you should join the slow foodies cf http://slowfoodperth.org.au


  3. E, I so should have mentioned Slow Food! Thanks for placing the link here.

    Steve, I appreciate your honest perspective – and I hope the cake was awesome!

    My last line was in reference to the fact that I love spending time on/with food – the sad fact is that I just don't have the time to do what I used to.

    With so much content to distil, this was a difficult post to write, hence I chose to include a taster of typical questions I ask rather than the whole gamut. It was not intended as a pro veg post, though I do have a lot of questions re meat's production and nutritional value.

    My craving for more knowledge and a more ethical lifestyle has always fed my love of food, and I enjoy food as much as I ever did. I hope that my post challenged a few readers to think about what's really on their fork.

    H 🙂


  4. What an awful time to be behind on my reading!

    Thank you so much for the recommendation, and I absolutely love everything you say here. Food is about joy and pleasure. The sad part is how very few people recognize that they would not lose out but gain by increasing the quality of their food.

    Personally I was never able to enjoy food until I gave up diets and stress about food. Ironically, that was when I finally achieved my ideal weight.

    Caring about your food means everything.


  5. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Darya. And I have a similar story to tell – it was when I threw out my old notions about diet & exercise that I started to look and feel my best.

    Being more mindful has helped me to make peace with my food.

    H 🙂


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