On Tuesday someone paid for us to go to Bel Canto the restaurant in London where the waiters and waitresses sing opera as you eat. It was an opportunity to eat mindfully as the starter and main course were exquisitely presented and full of flavour. It was probably the best fish soup starter I have ever savoured.
But what does it mean to eat mindfully, and who advocates it?
I first came across the idea of eating mindfully in Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slow, where he talks about the Slow Food movement started in Italy by culinary writer Carlo Petrini. One of the ideas in this combatting fast food is to eat much more slowly and really savour the food as you eat – really paying attention to what you put on your plate and how you eat it. As someone who lived on a tea estate and was taught how to make a pot of tea with tea leaves and who lamented the rise of tea bags this really appealed to me.
I then came across mindful eating exerices in psychology. Therapies like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) have a mindfulness exercise where you eat one raisin, really paying attention to it with all your senses. Mark Williams and Danny Penman have a similar exercise in their book Mindfulness- a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World they call the Chocolate Meditation.
These mindful eating exercises are called reality-focused, that is they are not religious but neutral and can be used by anyone, even thought they have their roots in Buddhist Insight Meditation.
But should Christians eat mindfully? Of course they should, because Christians are called to be reality-focused. But also Christians should be able to add another dimension to mindful eating. One is to bring back the forgotten art of slowing down before you eat and giving thanks beforehand through what used to be called saying Grace. We can also emphasise the communal aspect of eating together in physical, emotional and spiritual attunement.
In the book of Genesis in the Bible in the first chapter God looks at all He has made and this is what it says, ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ (1:31). God looked mindfully at all that He made and declared it very good. We should look at the food on our plate in the same way, with attention, mindfully and aware of its created goodness. And then we should give thanks for the Provider of this goodness.
As Christians we are called to scrupulously honest. We have forgotten to be thankful for the food we have been given, and have been sucked in to eating mindlessly along with most of the world. We haven’t shown the way in mindful eating. We need to be honest and admit that the mindful eating exercises in MBSR and MBCT are a good thing and that others have shown the way to mindful eating. The Slow Food movement is a good thing and we should be part of such a movement especially as it challenges food production values.
Daniel ate mindfully and with awareness (Daniel 1:12) and Jesus turned water into wine. With spiritual awareness our own meals can be transformed into an encounter with God’s grace.