Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Being Conscious

I’ve been reading a lot since I downloaded the Kindle app on my laptop, and because one of my abiding interests is food….you can probably guess that I’ve been reading a lot about it!

First there was the boldly titled French Women Don’t Get Fat.  Then came Real Food: What to Eat and Why.  Next was French Kids Eat Everything.  Currently I’m in the midst of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  So my focus has ranged from weight management, to healthy, organic eating, to the development of kids as non-picky eaters, to an analysis of the modern food system.  That’s a pretty broad range, but I’ve drawn one overarching principle from even such varied topics. 

All these writers tell us to eat consciously. 

It's not hard to eat lemon tart consciously!
There’s a tendency to live in a hurried, even thoughtless manner, never taking time to assess oneself and see where one stands in life.  I’m as guilty of this tendency as the next person, since I like to be efficient and load myself with projects.  I end up feeling like I’m rushing from one thing to the next, with hardly a chance to take a breath. 

This attitude ends up affecting the way we eat, as well.  In fact, in many ways, I think that our approach to food mirrors the way we approach everything else, since eating is such a fundamental activity.  If we’re not willing to pause and consider the healthfulness and quantity and quality of what we’re putting into our bodies to sustain our cells and our minds, it seems we’ll also be careless in the activities we take on or the work we try to accomplish. 

Sometimes people have to slow down and think about even the most basic elements of life. 

Each of the authors in the books I’ve read had a different reason for encouraging conscious eating.  The chic Frenchwomen says, ‘Stop and consider how much you’re eating, and perhaps you’ll hear your body say it’s full sooner.’  The real food advocate says, ‘Think for a moment about whether it’s really healthy to consume the chemicals of processed food.’  The American with picky kids says, ‘If you consider your own approach to eating, perhaps you’ll better understand your child’s.’  Finally, Mr. Pollan the omnivore seems to be declaring, ‘Think about the social, moral, ecological and political factors of what's on your plate.’ 

If we think well of food, we think well of everything!
All this contemplation of food and our individual interactions with it serve as a good analogy for how we should think about even bigger issues than nourishment.  We must self-analyze and self-correct; we must evaluate exterior influences upon us; we must reflect on the message our behavior gives others; we must realize that each individual choice has wide social repercussions. 

How can we be conscious of all this if we’re always busy and rushing from one thing to the next? 

There’s a movement I’ve read about in at least two of the food books, called ‘Slow Food.’  The basic principle seems to be that if we shun the fast food mentality, we’ll rediscover flavor, pleasure, friendship and even health.  I would advocate a new movement called ‘Slow Life.’  I appreciate having plenty of activities, and I also think that a steady level of business (especially if it involves projects which truly interest us) is good for the soul, but overall, a slower pace is a happier pace.

I think many of us have a critical mental commentary going at all times.  We wake up in the morning and think, ‘Well, today I’ve got to exercise and cook meals for my family, squeeze in a shower and a doctor’s appointment, plus the kids have music lessons and sports in the afternoon, and I was thinking of working on a craft project for a friend’s birthday, plus I need to do some online shopping and run errands in town, oh, and I have emails to answer and calls to return, there’s work as always, and maybe I’ll manage to get a little writing or reading in just before bed.’  With that list playing in the back of our minds all day, we chastise ourselves for not getting to everything, and perhaps go to bed disappointed since we had to sacrifice whatever was least pressing (but perhaps most important for our well-being). 

Perhaps we all need remove two or three things while we’re making our daily lists.

I’ve found that there’s almost always enough time.  Perhaps not everything gets done as soon as expected; perhaps some things just get forgotten altogether.  That’s okay.  It will get done eventually or else it wasn’t important enough to worry about in the first place.  By taking off a little of the pressure, we can gain greater perspective and also have time to consider what we’re doing before, during and after it happens. 

Know thyself while the tomatoes roast!
I’m a great believer in the dictum, ‘Know thyself.’ It’s hard to know yourself in a hurry, though.  If I do make myself slow down and think, I discover that some things are more important than I thought, and other things can be postponed to give me some space.  I’ve been trying to follow this method lately with my daily activities.  It lead to the discovery that if I do my writing first, rather than my giant to-do list, I feel more inspired and calmer and find the other duties less daunting and irritating. 

In the end, what I’m trying to say, I think, is that by encouraging a lively consciousness of what we’re doing each day—each moment, even—we can end up living a happier, more balanced life.  And after all, when life’s as tricky as it is, you’ve got to take every chance to maintain a good balance!


  1. I could not resist commenting. Well written!

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  2. as always you hit the nail on the head Chiara! I know what it's like to eat hurriedly and to have a constant inner dialogue... I make my own bread now, that makes me slow down and concentrate on being...

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  4. I had messed up the last comment - somehow a big chunk went missing from an attempt at some editing. And I posted it before checking... so this is it:

    How apropos - I was just reading an article that suggests if you are a list maker; only put five things on your list before you make a new one. You will feel less rushed, perhaps devote more time to each item and most likely remain a calmer person.

    I've never been a big fan of the kitchen and food. I think I attempt to take the time to eat, and consume more good than unhealthy products. But I am less of a fan of everything having to be automated. While I'm not going to go and make my own pasta like my one grandmother did, I'm not going to use an electric can opener or an electric food chopper. I enjoy having the choice of how to chop the veggies I’m using and taking my time (at least now anyway...being an empty 'nester' helps). I like to present my food, could be a throwback to having family members in the restaurant business over 45 years ago, way before the food network channel and its abundance of food shows came into being.

    Take the time breath and enjoy what you eat. All very good things to help us slow down while we grow mentally.