Mindful Eating: Farmers, the Land, and Local Economy
I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as “consumers.”
—Wendell Berry, The Pleasures of Eating, Center for Ecoliteracy
The Times They are a-Changin’: Move Towards a Local Economy
After a few very difficult years, we are now only starting to talk about the importance, and even necessity, of maintaining and supporting a local economy. This is important not only to our health and taste buds, but also to our vital economic self-sufficiency. It is perfectly in line with the concept of Mindful Eating, and, by definition, involves local farmers as well as others who contribute to eating and drinking.
An apple grown down the road in Gland, Switzerland, will have a lot more vitamins than one that has traveled across the Atlantic. It will taste better, because it can be picked ripe, unlike one that is picked green and hard because it has to travel thousands of miles.
A Swiss-made pot or pan is not only of good quality and design, which can make us proud to be Swiss, but when we buy it, we are keeping the profits and the taxes in our own economy. I’m not talking about nationalism; I’m talking about survival in an increasingly precarious economic environment, wherever that might be.
And both the apple and the frying pan don’t use much fuel when they come from just down the road, so they’re environmentally friendly. They create less pollution.
Everybody comes out a winner when we buy local, when we practice Mindful Eating. Our economy is healthier, and so are our bodies.
Mindful Eating and Health
I grew up on Kentucky writer Wendell Berry’s Manifesto, in a state where people lived close to the land, where they loved it and respected it. Berry was already promoting the same ideas as Michael Pollan forty or fifty years ago.
One of his most down-to-earth quotes: “We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?” We are now witnessing a complete turnaround in our attitudes toward eating, with programs like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move; Switzerland and France’s overwhelmingly successful La Semaine du Goût, or tasting week; Jamie Oliver’s revamping of British (and now American) school lunches; the administering of a tax on junk food in Romania; New York and U.S. federal) calorie label laws, and now, nutritional labeling in the U.S.
From health problems caused by obesity and lack of exercise, to the increase of childhood obesity and diabetes in the industrialized world, we have reached the point of “enough”, and we are slowly but surely becoming aware that we have to do an about face when it comes to our eating habits. We have to be mindful of our bodies and our health in the same careful way we tend to our gardens.
We have to go back to respecting nature, because it is nature that nurtures us.
Note: Although my ideas are similar to those of The Center for Mindful Eating in the U.S., my approach is not through meditation, but through a disciplined, conscious effort to eat healthily in our day-to-day lives.
What is the Role of the Land in Mindful Eating?
I go back to Kentuckian Wendell Berry. In Kentucky, like in Switzerland, the land is considered a priceless treasure. Like in Switzerland, driving through the countryside and looking at the cows in the pastures and the glow of the sun on the snow-covered mountain peaks is the equivalent of walking through a gallery of masterpieces at the Prado or the Louvre.
Like most Swiss people, Kentuckians live simply and modestly. They maintain a sense of integrity, honesty and clear-mindedness which many Americans have lost along the path to so-called progress. Their values have remained intact.
These values are not so very different from those of Swiss montagnards, who often speak many tongues, live and travel all over the world, make millions of francs, but still refer to themselves as “mountain people.”
For many of us, love of the land is in our blood and blood runs thick. It provides us with our sustenance, our food, and it provides us with our fun — mountain sports, hiking, and, in Switzerland, moonlit walks through the vineyards. And still today, in Kentucky, owning a farm is a tradition, almost a given, for a true Kentuckian, even if you’re a doctor, lawyer or banker.
The land is our art gallery, full of ever-changing masterpieces of nature; its value is instilled in our hearts as well as in our pockets, and we need to treat it with the same care as we would treat any priceless object. We need to react when it is endangered.
Mindful Eating means that all our actions are taken with the awareness that “nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do” (Wendell Berry).
The Mindful Eating Series
In the context of this concept of Mindful Eating, I plan on posting a series of articles that show people who are already practicing this in one way or another, without necessarily calling it by that name.
Click here to read the first post in this series, and interview with David John Kong-Hug.