As I was reading a recent New York Times piece, Mindful Eating as Food for Thought, all I kept thinking was, “When are they going to get to how this works with kids?” Mindful eating involves eating in silence. When the piece finally mentioned children at the very end, the concession was made that “Avoiding chatter for 30 minutes might be impossible in some families, especially with young children.”
Young children? That should be “any children.”
Mindful eating is a philosophy. It’s a way to “meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel.” It stems from Buddhist teaching and it’s “about experiencing food more intensely — especially the pleasure of it.”
A mindful eating experience at New York’s Blue Cliff Monastery is described in the piece. Two days a week, anyone can join Buddhist brothers and sisters for mindful meals. These vegan meals start with silent prayer and continue with silent eating and contemplation. Eat a little. Put down your fork. Think about where the food came from – the Earth, the people who grew it, the cooks who prepared it. Think about what you’re stomach is feeling. Is it full? Are you satisfied?
I get it. As a culture, food has become a hit-and-run activity. Fill your belly (probably a little too much) and move on to all the things we’re “so busy” doing. It’s good to slow down with our meals.
I have no problems with the mindful eating philosophy in general. I’m telling you right now, though, mindful eating (at least in this form) is not going to happen in my house anytime soon. Eat in silence? You’ve got to be kidding.
Our meals, especially our dinners, look very different than they did five years ago. I cook (mostly) from scratch. There are a lot more colorful vegetables and a lot less meat than there used to be on our plates. Our table is always set with real dishes and cloth napkins. Music may play from another room, but no TV is on and electronics are not allowed at the table. Dinner is not optional. Everyone in the house sits down together at the table when dinner is served.
But the biggest change to our family meals is the talking, the conversation. If I’m going to learn something new about my sons, it’s most likely going to happen at the table. If something happened in school that they need to talk about, they’ll bring it up at dinner. If I read something or learned something during the day that I want to share with my family, it happens at the dinner table.
Eating in silence would be detrimental to my family. I also think it would be impossible with my boys. Even if I asked for three minutes of silence, it wouldn’t happen. It would just take a look, a bodily sound, or the foot of the 9-year-old “accidentally” brushing the foot of the 12-year-old to break the silence and laughter or roughhousing to ensue.
In addition to the silence, the slow eating would be torture for my boys. Try asking a boy who is almost 13 to not inhale his food. He can’t eat enough to keep up with his metabolism as it is. He’s never full. Ever. Yesterday, I had a roasted chicken out on the counter to use for meat for a potpie and some soup. I left the kitchen for a few minutes. When I returned, an entire breast had been picked off. With a piece of chicken sticking out of his mouth like a feather out of a cat's mouth he said, “Mom, you need to make one of those chickens every day.”
(Last summer, I had an entire loaf of sourdough cubed and sitting out on the counter to get stale so I could make panzanella. One of my son’s friends ate it when he came in to get a drink. I’m telling you; you can’t stop these junior high boys.)
If mindful eating is “paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel,” my family doesn’t have what it takes. Shoveling of food will happen. The purpose of each morsel, at least for the boys, is to keep up with the lightning-quick metabolisms they inherited from my husband.
But real food will be served and enjoyed, great conversations will happen, big smiles will emanate from my face when food disappears before the meal is even cooked, and our relationships with each other will take precedence over our relationships with the food.
I’m curious. Have you tried to bring mindful eating into your family meals? What’s been your experience?