Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.
One of the things the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program encourages is for people to eat mindfully, to avoid distractions of TV, work, reading, driving, etc. and instead focus on and fully appreciate the food. To do this, it’s recommended that we eat slowly, with small bites, putting the fork down between mouthfuls, and pausing to fully appreciate the sight, smell, texture, and aftertaste of the food.
In some places this is the norm, but in America, this is not something most of us are good at. We’re all about the fast food, literally and figuratively. Part of it is that we’re often pressured to multi-task and to be as efficient as possible. But I think it’s also a question of expectation and abundance.
If we always expect to have the food, it’s easy to take it for granted, to not give it full attention. But what about those who don’t have much food, who can’t assume that they can always have more, or that it will always be there?
One of my favorite examples of this is Charlie Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when Charlie savors each small morsel of his annual birthday chocolate bar, making it last as long as he possibly could. But a more recent and real-life example is in the book I Remember Warm Rain. In the story “Ponce de Leon Walk”, Kahiye Hassan talks about adjusting to life in Portland, Maine, after coming from Kenya.
In it, he talks about going to a little grocery store on Congress Street, which was very different than stores from his home. “I had assumed that mangoes and coconuts would always be part of my life, but this store didn’t even have mango juice.” (p. 97) What the store did have was a treat from Kahiye’s youth that he never expected to find – strawberry jelly. He said, “The long-lost odor alone made me feel full.” Using his finger as a spoon, he scooped out some jelly, put it in his mouth, and let it linger. “The taste softened my tongue; the seeds did not interfere with the essence of the flavor or diminish the taste. They were the taste, providing flexibility to the tongue. For days I munched the strawberry jelly from my hidden stash… and came up with many ways to eat it.” (p. 98)
And so as I try to shut out the distractions of my daily life and focus on my food, I will remember this – to be grateful for what I have, because even in this land of abundance, I don’t know how long I will have it. Considering it that way, it becomes precious, not something I will simply stuff in my mouth while sitting at my desk or in front of the TV, or hurriedly eat on the way to something else.
That reminds me of people who disdain diets by saying things like, “Do you really want your last meal to be a salad?” But in my mind, whether it’s a salad or a four-course elegant meal, it doesn’t matter what the last meal is if it’s not something that we savor and make worth remembering.