How mindful eating can save the planet

It all starts with a single raisin


I grew up in a family of professional speed eaters. We didn’t enter any pie- or corn-dog-eating contests, but my siblings and I did practise inhaling heaping quantities of food every night with such gusto that my startled mother even timed us. Our record: two minutes.

I thought I’d slowed down since – until weeks of frenzied holiday eating left me feeling like a swollen slug. In a wood-panelled- basement hours from Toronto, with a bellyful of cookies and a late-night container of sour cream and onion dip in hand, it hit me. The whole planet is bloated and ailing under the weight of our zoned-out consumer excesses. It’s time to commit to a new year of eating mindfully.

Truth is, you haven’t really eaten until you’ve eaten a raisin in a mindfulness class. 

If you’ve paid any attention to the mindfulness craze, you may have heard of the technique. Walk into a mindfulness-based stress reduction class and you’ll find a bunch of people staring intently at a raisin in their palm.

At first, taking 10 minutes to eat a single tiny piece of dried fruit just reminded me that I don’t particularly like raisins. Then I realized that thing in my hand had the power to transform our dysfunctional food system – or at the very least the mindlessness it thrives on.

Sitting in a semi-circle, we’re prompted by our teacher to notice the mini-mountain-range-like folds, the variations in golden brown hue, the aroma (which, to me, sort of smells like recess – my mother was a fan of Sun-maid), the feel of the raisin rolling around on our tongues.

The most expansive part of the exercise comes when we’re asked to contemplate the raisin’s humble beginnings: the vine it hung on, the sun, rain and soil that fed it, the worker who pruned the vine, picked, dried, packed, trucked and cashed out that raisin before we take a (very slow) bite.

Everywhere you look, dieticians and health pros are championing mindful eating as a weight loss tool. Eating slowly definitely makes you eat less, but the trend has the potential to help the planet, too. 

Mindfulness asks us to slow down and think about where our food comes from, where it was grown, the weather that nurtured it. I’d add a few more points for contemplation before your mindful meal: Was it sprayed with pesticides? Were the seeds treated with bee-killing neonics or genetically modified? What about our meat and dairy? Was it raised with antibiotics? Hormones? Stuffed into a pen? 

You don’t need to ask every question with every bite or you’ll be there all night, but definitely before you take the first one.

Aside from my holiday setback, it’s transformed the way I eat a piece of fruit in the morning, that’s for sure. I now try to take a moment, even if it’s just a quick pause, to savour the beauty of my apple or clementine and give thanks. It’s a mini meditation that can be done while waiting for your toast to pop. 

Applying the raisin principle to our eating habits pushes us to rethink our super-processed and unsustainable food system that ultimately depends on our eating without thought, without question and by the fistful. Folding in some mindfulness into our meals nudges us to consider whether we’re cool with what was involved in getting us our food. It also makes us savour the hell out of it when we dig in. And gratitude can be mighty tasty.

More from Ecoholic here.

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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