Ever sat in front of a cup of coffee and gazed deeply into it? I mean, really deeply – seeing past its colour and texture and aroma all the way back to the red coffee cherries and the work-roughened hands that moved them from tree to basket, all the way back to the lake from where the water originated, all the way back to the field or barn where the cow stood which lactated for your morning pick-me-up?
If you’d have told me ten years ago that this is a form of mindful consumption, and a practise which would become important to my life and work, I would have had a hard time believing that anyone could have the patience or the desire to think so deeply about their daily habits. Yet, as I move more and more resolutely into the worlds of peace and food, I find myself sitting and pondering my meals almost as habitually as I once took them for granted.
The other night I sat down to a salad of shredded kale, carrots, beets, and Jerusalem artichokes, sprinkled with toasted pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds, and spent a moment considering each plant that donated its leaves, roots, stems, or seeds to my plate. I wondered where the flesh from the pumpkin whose seeds I had before me had ended up. I thought about the nutty tasting leaves of the sesame plant and imagined the processing and transportation involved in the seeds. I pictured the tall kale plant, regenerating new leaves once the ones I was eating had been cut. I imagined the soil that had surrounded the beetroots, and hoped that the greens had gone to a hungry belly or at the very least a good compost pile. I remembered the conversation I had at the farmers’ market stand where I purchased the Jerusalem artichokes, the person stacking bunches of carrots at the independent grocer up the street, and the little red wigglers who would later be devouring the tough, knobby ends of the beets.
You can see how this kind of ponderousness can lend itself to silent, reflective kinds of meals, yet it’s also an excellent starting point for a conversation. There’s a saying I’ve heard that it’s impolite to discuss past or future meals while enjoying the one in front of you, yet having a discussion about the meal in front of you can open up amazing spaces for connection with your fellow diners, as well as gratitude and presence often inaccessible to us during other moments of our day. Even a simple pause before a meal to reflect on or acknowledge the amazing chain of events that occurred to allow us to eat can be immensely grounding.
And then, I find myself asking, why stop there? As it becomes comfortable or even pleasurable to look past the food we cook and eat into its full journey, it becomes easier to recognize all kinds of other things around us as moments in a long story. I find myself marvelling at the complex forces of history and context, which so strongly shape the present, and I daily renew my sense of wonder at what is yet to come.
The next time you sit down to eat, I invite you, dear reader, to open your eyes a little wider than they were at your last meal, and really look at your food. What do you see?