Today I was standing in my kitchen, gulping mango juice so fast it seared my throat with cold, and when I finished the bottle, I blinked at it sadly. Where had my juice gone? Had I enjoyed it, at least? Had I even thought about it as I was drinking it?
Probably not. I was focused on downing the glass as fast as possible so I could get on to more important things. And my point isn't that I shall forever mourn that mango juice I barely noticed drinking, but that it is a little disconcerting that I don't regularly take note of or savor the food I am consuming.
We eat carelessly. We eat to be done, to be full, because we think we should, because other people are, because we're hungry, because it's a habit. Barring the career foodies among us, with refined taste and stretchable budgets, most of us rarely eat simply because we want to enjoy food, and we rarely make a point to simply enjoy or be aware of our food while we're eating it.
As a kid, I would get an earful of "children are starving somewhere in the world" when I didn't finish my dinner, and although I suppose that's one way of acting conscious and conscientious about what and how we eat, it never enticed me to slow down and be thankful--and more than that, be thoughtful.
Certainly we have many reasons for careless eating--lack of time, lack of money, lack of interest--and probably many of us realize that this isn't the best habit we could be cultivating. We know that complete indifference to the nutrients or lack of them that we put into our body won't serve us well, and neither does it make us feel too great to inhale the soup and sandwich we ordered so that we can dash off to our next engagement. But mindful eating has been sacrificed along the way, sometimes becoming a genuine impossibility in "food deserts" or other places where no food we really want to dwell on for long exists or is accessible. And just as often we simply prioritize our way out of thinking about what we eat or pausing to savor it--got to eat on the run, between classes, between shifts, as fast as possible.
This careless eating--though by careless I do not mean to slight people who would like to care about what they eat but have not got the means to devote to it--has its consequences: rising obesity, rising stress, more distance from one another as we forego communal eating or family dinners. We probably don't know where our food comes from, and we likely have no idea what the ingredients in what we're eating really are. The fast food and junk food industries thrive on these rushed, mindless eating patterns, and our cultural mentality prizes efficiency and productivity over relaxation or time to decompress. Food can be a way to unwind from stress, but for some of us, food becomes a coping mechanism or a vicious stressor in its own right, such that although we may be technically thinking about what we eat, it still spawns a taxing and unhealthy relationship.
One attempt to mitigate the way we relate to what we eat has been the Slow Food Movement. Originating in Italy, the idea is to combat fast food culture by choosing food that is less-processed and not ready-made, and likely local or organic. It isn't really about food, though, in the end--it's about reclaiming a mindset that places mindfulness and enjoyment of what we eat back into a place of importance. I don't believe that you have to be a foodie or a locavore or above a certain tax bracket in order to partake in this fittingly slow revolution. What we can eat may be limited, but how we do so is still up to us. Because what it's all about is using the power of deliberate choices to slow down the runaway train of careless, harmful eating, and start to look around, take a breath, and savor or at least understand what we've got in front of us.