The concept of “mindful eating”– to be fully present when eating so one savors and enjoys food — isn’t particularly new, but it often comes up during the holiday season, when a slew of “healthy eating tips for the holidays” articles pop up.
There is nothing wrong with mindful eating per se. Enjoying and savoring is much preferred to chowing down in front of the television while being numb to what can be a wonderful sensory experience. My frustration is that the concept is myopically applied exclusively to the act of eating, when it should really cover more territory.
I propose that the idea of ‘mindful eating’ be considered from a big picture perspective. True mindfulness stems from awareness. Do you know how your food was grown? Where it was grown? How the people picking and producing it were treated and financially rewarded?
I encourage people to enjoy food (real food, that is — I don’t believe in convincing someone to enjoy sugar-free, fat-free ice cream), and I also encourage them to take an interest in the larger web that is our food system by considering relevant factors like environmental impact, social justice issues, animal welfare, and labor conditions.
We are increasingly learning of situations that show just how broken our food system is. Over the past few days, another huge egg distributor has come under fire for terribly abusive practices. Most turkeys consumed at Thanksgiving live in harrowing conditions and are killed in the cruelest of ways. Slaugherhouses come with their share of labor issues, and slave labor is an increasingly common problem in cocoa production.
Too often, the response to the above-mentioned issues is “So I can’t eat anything?!”. Quite the contrary; my hope is that, once armed with knowledge, people will make better choices about the foods they eat. I’m not talking choosing the ice cream that has 20 fewer calories or the juice that has vitamin D tacked on. I’m referring to, whenever possible, prioritizing products and growing practices that don’t take resources — human or environmental — for granted.
We need to step into what I call “Mindful Eating 2.0″, where it is no longer just about savoring food — not when there is such rampant abuse in our various food systems. Go ahead and enjoy that dark chocolate bar. You should; chocolate is delicious and should be savored. But, to truly call yourself a “mindful eater”, you must realize that food choices have a ripple effect in that they directly support labor systems and agricultural practices. For a list of helpful websites to help you navigate better sourcing of foods, see this post.
PS: If the American Dietetic Association truly wants to be a progressive organization, how about requiring that a certain percentage of RDs’ continuing education credits relate to issues of environmental health, social justice, or other ‘big picture’ issues? It certainly beats the patronizing “healthy snacking” sessions sponsored by the likes of FritoLay, or the “don’t worry about pesticides!” debacle I attended at FNCE earlier this year.