“Our menu is now geared towards conscious food, Ma’am,” said the chef to my friend, as she peered over the menu.
“What the hell is conscious food?” I asked my friend, genuinely inquisitive.
“You know, healthier food choices. Look at their menu: They have green salads, quinoa, millets and gluten free burgers. It means we can order more consciously or order healthier stuff! You really need to get on Instagram and follow trends and keep yourself abreast,” she chided. I guess she has a point, I thought inwardly.
But something about this ‘conscious food’ thing was rattling in my head. So, on the drive back I asked, “But isn’t eating consciously more important?”
“Ha,” she exclaimed. “That’s what I just told you in the restaurant 20 minutes ago.”
“No, no,” I persisted; “you’re not getting my line of thought.”
“What is your line of thought, Rupi?”
“Eating consciously or conscious eating,” I said, “is ‘how’ we eat our food. Let’s remember the times this came up:
1. We have both tried praying before our meals. Always remembering to do so is still a struggle, you admit. In prayer we did two things: be grateful for the food that lay before us and thank all those who have contributed to the food arriving before us. Remember how we discovered that the times we prayed, we noticed the food more. You even told me how you found it so difficult to thank the people while eating a packet of chips, simply because you couldn’t figure out how the chips really get made, and hence who all are involved. We discovered thanking was easiest with raw food.
2. Remember when I rattled on about chewing food as many times as the number of teeth in our mouth. You said, of course good to do, and then I explained the science behind carbohydrates. How the digestion of carbohydrates starts in the mouth with the mixing of saliva, so chewing 30-35 times means digesting 60-70% of your carbs in the mouth itself. How joyful I was when I discovered this, munching away at parathas but chewing 30 times.
3. Then you got grossed out when I told you to watch and listen carefully and you will notice the first burp that your stomach produces while eating. This first burp tells us that the stomach is half to three-fourths full, and we need to stop eating. You complained that you never burp and I called you weird.
4. The best of course was the half day Buddhist workshop that you sent me to. I have to confess, I love the monks, so am a bit biased. Anyway, one of the sessions that day was on mindful eating. It was a cold winter morning in a park, and we all got one samosa and a cup of tea. For the first time ever, someone asked me to smell my food. It was funny realising that I had never really smelled a samosa before. Have you? We smelled, we chewed till it was almost liquid in our mouths, it took me 20 minutes to finish one samosa. I felt the taste of all its ingredients in my mouth, realised it was too spicy and immediately wondered if my stomach would feel the same discomfort of spices that my mouth was feeling.”
“So, are you saying that eating consciously is more important than what we eat?”
“No, but perhaps it is equally important. Rush through eating your green salad while talking on the phone, gulp down some sunflower seeds without chewing them properly, and I can tell you that you will get the same indigestion, gas, discomfort you get from eating cooked or junk food. The same principle would apply to organic food. You may well be losing a lot of its goodness by eating it unconsciously. For over a decade now I can tell you I was making decent food choices: fresh home cooked vegetarian meals and fruits were my daily staples, with junk food a rarity. But I wasn’t healthy. Now I am slowly eating more consciously. I try and stop at the first burp, chew well especially the grains and raw foods, and I can see the difference.
I still find it difficult to pray before each meal; maybe I will learn that from you. But I smell my food more. And I haven’t turned into a dog!”
Humour me and try a few things listed above, and tell me how that made you feel. Just one request: Try for at least 7 days.