My friend Antonio teased me that my new ‘My Week in Food’ series will encourage me to eat more (he got a suitable tease back!). But it’s true that it could if I was looking for an excuse to overindulge, spend more money eating out, etc. An excuse to eat more isn’t what the series is about: it’s about being able to revisit favourite places and mention them again; it’s about being able to cook favourite dishes again and not always be seeking to eat somewhere or cook something new. It’s about a little mention – like my Sunday treat of a fruit flan from Paul bakery last week – that doesn’t warrant an entire post.
A side effect of the series is not that I eat more, it’s that I’m more mindful of what I eat. I don’t list every single thing I eat in the week (I’m sure that would be very boring!) but the highlight of each day. And that gets me thinking about why it’s a highlight; it encourages me to see the good – if only in an old and favourite recipe that I decide to make again. And it’s living in the moment.
I’ve mentioned a few times that apart from working as a freelance book editor, I’m also an alternative health practitioner. One of the things I’ve done over recent years is teach mindfulness meditation for a charity (now sadly closed through lack of sufficient funding) to women who are victims of domestic violence and usually living in refuges. I learnt so much from those brave women but I also saw in action how mindfulness meditation is a very powerful tool to help people who are going through a very stressful time. Its great power is its practicality; small ‘meditations’ or ‘practices’ that can easily be incorporated into daily living. Meditation isn’t all about sitting cross legged, guru style, and humming a mantra. That can be great, but sometimes something simpler and more accessible is needed.
One of the meditations we did in a 6-week course was the Raisin Meditation. Yes, I know it sounds very weird but it’s all about eating mindfully and it always proved to be a very powerful meditation. You can find a full description in a book called The Mindfulness Solution by Ronald D. Siegel, but the essence of the meditation is that you slow the eating process down into tiny little steps. You take a raisin, you hold it, look at it, smell it; you hold it between your teeth, then on your tongue; you pass it around your mouth feeling the sensation; you take just one bite; you taste; only slowly do you actually eat and swallow it.
In our hurried world, we often eat too fast or on the go. When we do this, our body doesn’t have the time to process and digest the food properly and we can suffer physical symptoms. But we also lose the opportunity to really appreciate and enjoy what we’re eating. It’s becoming a rare thing for families to sit round a table and eat together now – taking not only time to properly appreciate the meal before them but to talk with each other about all kinds of things. How many times do we rush a meal and barely taste it? One of the brilliant side effects of the Raisin Meditation was that the women I worked with came back saying how it had changed their meal times. They ate more slowly, they took more notice of what they ate and got more enjoyment from it, and especially pleasing was to hear that they passed this on to their kids as they all talked and appreciated the food they were eating.
A positive side effect of solo dining is taking the time to really appreciate the food with no other distraction. I’m not really talking everyday – I can’t claim to eat every meal in a mindful way; I rush too sometimes! – but a special meal I’ve spent some time preparing or when out at a restaurant. The photo at the top is from my lunch at Locanda Cipriani in April 2015: white polenta with Lagoon shrimps and shredded leek. It was such an exquisite dish that eating it was the kind of mindful experience I’m talking about. Just occasionally a meal will be so wonderful, so incredibly good, that you naturally slow down, you stop talking to whoever you’re dining with, and you say to them (or yourself if alone), Wow! This is amazing. You appreciate the look of the dish, the smell, the texture as you eat the first mouthful, the flavours coming through. It becomes an experience of the senses. This is what eating should be sometimes: mindful. A total immersion in the experience; being completely in the moment of your eating. We can’t do it all the time; maybe we can’t do it often. But do try to do it sometimes. Just slow down. Look at your food, really taste it, really enjoy it and fully appreciate it.