This week I have been talking to people in my Eat for Life classes about becoming a Conscious Connoisseur. There are two parts to this concept. First, “What does it mean to be conscious when we eat?” and, second, “What does it mean to become a connoisseur when we eat?” Taken together, it forms a way of eating that one of my favorite poets says brings us the greatest pleasure.
According to Wendell Berry, “Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”
So let’s break it down.
Being conscious with food means the following:
a. being mindful about what, when, why, and how you eat;
b. being a knowledgeable consumer of food so that what and how you eat honors your body and your taste buds; and
c. being conscientious about how your food choices affect the community, the environment, and the world.
Being conscious of food not only helps us understand our personal eating habits, but it widens our awareness to include a curious examination of what we are eating and how each bite of food connects us with the rest of the world in some way. Apparently, this wider connection between what we eat and the world around us doesn’t often occur to people, specifically when it comes to the environment, according to a recent study.* For instance, do you consider the environmental cost of buying food that has to travel around the world to get to you? While I’m not suggesting that you buy only local food, I am recommending that you consider being more aware of where your food comes from and the impact it has on various aspects of the world around you. And yes, buying locally when possible can be good for the local economy, your body, and the environment.
Every food has a story.
I like to say “every food has a story.” It has a story about who raised it, where it was raised, when it was raised, how it was produced, how it got to the store, and how it made its way to you. Do you know the story of your food? One harrowing example is that of chocolate. Can you find the chocolate you buy on the ethical chocolate website listing the companies that use slave free chocolate? We are in the season where a lot of chocolate is bought in the form of eggs and bunnies, but how good do they taste when you know it was probably produced using child slave labor?
The chocolate story is just one of many that will probably create some discomfort for you, but it is a story that needs to be told. The major chocolate companies–Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé—committed to changing their practices over 20 years ago, but according to this report from the Washington Post, they still cannot guarantee that their chocolates aren’t produced without child labor and according to this Guardian article, a class action law suit has now been filed by former child slaves in the United States.
Being a connoisseur of food means the following:
a. taking time to choose food you really like and food that will satisfy you;
b. being fully present for the experience of eating and taking pleasure in that experience; and
c. exploring the world of food to discover the many varieties of flavors and tastes that are available to enjoy.
The definition of being a connoisseur is “one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties” as a connoisseur of fine wines or one who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge.” In terms of eating, it encompasses all aspects of the pleasure of eating, from choosing the food you want to preparing the environment where you eat to being curious about the tastes available in the wide world of food.
How often do you take time to increase your dining experience by trying out a new recipe, putting on some music, lighting some candles, putting on the table cloth, and using the good china? You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to make your dining experience more pleasurable. You can increase your joy with food at any meal by just taking a few extra moments to be grateful for the meal you are about to eat. Research indicates that taking time for gratitude can make the food taste even better.
For more information about being conscious about the food we eat, listen to this new podcast from KCRW’s Life Examined, a one-hour weekly show exploring science, philosophy, faith — and finding meaning in the modern world hosted by Jonathan Bastian.
Life Examined Podcast.
Food: The history, addiction, and ritual
In this episode, he interviews Mark Bittman and Michael Moss on their new books, Animal, Vegetable, Junk: The History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal and HOOKED:Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, and ends with a short interview with me on mindful eating.
While it can become a little overwhelming to consider every bite that we put into our mouth, we can take small steps at understanding more about our food and increasing our pleasure with food. The art of dining with the greatest pleasure takes a little effort but the payoff is huge for our health and happiness.
Savor Every Bite!!
*Hoek, A.C., Pearson, D., James, S.W., Lawrence, M.A., & Friel, S. (2017). Shrinking the food-print: A qualitative study into consumer perceptions, experiences, and attitudes towards healthy and environmentally friendly food behaviors. Appetite: 108: 117-131.