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Mindful Eating 2.0: Beyond What’s On Your Plate

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.



  1. Norma said on November 22nd, 2011

    Weeks before Halloween, I started seeing all the stupid articles online: “How to Save 1,000 Calories at Thanksgiving!” “Healthier Christmas Cookies for Your Family!” “Survive the Office Party Snack Assault!” and all that hyped-up BS. My point is that if you “eat right” (i.e., beneficial whole foods) as your rule, then the special occasions really are special and it is not going to negatively impact you to have that one day with a big meal and a buffet of different desserts. However, the sad reality is that most people I know indulge in what used to be considered special occasion food ALL THE TIME, then go into this ridiculous panic because “the holidays are coming!” and they know they’re going to eat even more. As recently as the 1970s, when I was a kid, dessert was something we had only on birthdays and “big” holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas)…now people routinely eat dessert DAILY and even after LUNCH (after a nasty god-knows-how-many-calorie lunch at a chain restaurant, everyone puts down a big brownie sundae…? WHY?). If you actually reserve special “party” foods for a few special party occasions a few times a year, you don’t need to worry about using butter and cream on your real mashed potatoes or having a slice of pie.

  2. Rodzilla said on November 22nd, 2011

    Great post. I can’t claim not to dabble in products from large corps, but I prefer companies and establishments that support the smaller guys and are doing their best to benefit the food system.

    Hopefully enough consumers will start to demand this of the big companies. The recent focus on big business should include “big food” as well.

  3. Kat said on November 25th, 2011

    aka a thorough understanding of nutritional ecology.

    Love your posts, as always!

  4. Alysa said on November 29th, 2011

    Norma, you hit the nail on the head about how people now enjoy special occasion foods on a daily basis. Andy, great perspective as always.

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