The United States has an obesity problem. It is an epidemic that has been drummed into any semi-aware American’s head, often to the point where it is drowned out like ambient noise. While there is a seemingly endless list of issues that contribute to the obesity epidemic, I believe it can be tracked to one root cause: we, as a collective society, have lost touch with our food’s identity.
The Japanese have a saying – itadakimasu – directly translating to “I take your life.” While today it is used as an equivalent to “bon appétit,” it traditionally held a much larger significance. It was an acknowledgement that, for one being to survive, often another must die. It recognized that instead of making the ultimate sacrifice for man’s nourishment, that animal or plant could have survived to enjoy a life of bountiful nourishment and fecundity.
In today’s world of large-scale food production, there is (at least) six degrees of separation between our food and us. Through this separation, we have forgotten our food’s identity by failing to recognize that our food was sourced from an animal or plant once alive and thriving, the exact value championed by the saying itadakimasu. With this lack of recognition, it is easy for us to allow ourselves to eat excessively, and this consumption is a fundamental root of our obesity today.
To make meaningful progress in combating the obesity epidemic, we must be more mindful towards the food we consume. We must specifically enjoy our meat, whether it is beef, pork, poultry or fish, with an awareness of the interconnection between ourselves and the animal, and the impact our consumption choices have on the planet. With more mindfulness, our temptation to over-indulge will reduce, and as a direct result, our health will improve.
Mindful eating is a challenging endeavor that must be consciously practiced everyday. Here are five tips for getting started:
1. Consciously remember that your meat comes from an animal, not a supermarket.
American supermarkets are notorious for excess (Costco, anyone?). When we see a row of grilled chickens, pounds of deli meat, and thousands of cans of tuna stacked on the shelf, it is easy to forget that meat doesn’t “grow on trees.” Next time you stock up, remember to recognize that instead of making a sacrifice for your nourishment, that animal could have had a long, fulfilling life.
2. Prepare your food artfully.
The Japanese artfully prepare seafood in the form of sushi – the exquisite craftsmanship and vibrant colors encourage consumers to consciously enjoy each piece, and the smaller portions reduce the temptation to gorge. The inherent respect and artistic principals of sushi should be applied to all meals, whether they consist of meat or vegetables.
3. Toast before your meal.
Making a toast helps every meal become a mini-celebration. With this mindset, it is easier to truly appreciate our food. Furthermore, a simple toast reminds us that every day is special, and this recognition can help us to cope with the stress of our daily lives.
4. Make your eating experience a sensory orgasm.
Your food might be beautiful, so take note. Maybe even Instagram it. Take deep breaths and enjoy the smell before you take a bite. When you do take that elusive first bite, chew slowly. Notice the texture, and see if you can identify the different herbs and spices. Listen to yourself chew, as it will help you maintain a slow pace.
5. Practice patience before you pounce for seconds.
Satiation signals take time for our brains to process. Give it ten minutes, and then see if you are still hungry. By waiting, we lessen the risk of over-eating, and show respect for our body’s health and our world’s finite bounty.
Here’s to mindful eating and a healthy future! Itadakimasu!