Mindful Eating is about restoring a joyful and healthier relationship with food. As we practice we inevitably become conscious of its long and intricate politics.
The Politics of Food
For many years I studied the history of the indigenous communities of the Caribbean and tracked the dietary changes produced by colonization, both past and present. I came to understand how the takeover of an indigenous culture by a perpetrator who disrespects their norms, language, spiritual rituals, established foods and eating patterns, and imposes their own on the inhabitants, can have a devastating mental and social effect.
I have observed the impact of political and societal dislocations on the physical health of a people and how such disturbances tend to change eating habits.
Can you think of food items that were imported into your culture by colonists? If you are from a colonial culture, foods that were imposed on others in your name?
One of the practices we adopt in the Mindful Eating/Conscious Living™ program is to look deeply into the history of a particular food item, envisioning the long journey, perhaps from other countries and cultures, it has taken to get to us. We practice gratitude toward all the beings, sentient and non-sentient, involved in that journey. Often a discussion on the politics of food ensues.
Pause here and think of just one item food. Now look into its history, counting all the beings involved in it getting to you. How many are you now aware of?
Food and Wellness
Food determines sickness and wellness. Poverty and affluence determine people’s living conditions, and their access to food and ability or inability to practice self-care. The stratification of people creates divisions, the poor and the rich. Although everyone is subject to sickness, aging and dying, these universal and natural occurrences impact these groups differently.
Working with diverse populations I’ve witnessed how socio-economic status uniquely influences mental and physical health. Beginning with the way individuals present their problems and deal with their maladies to the outcome of treatment, all are influenced by how they perceive themselves. The wealthy have the time, knowledge and means to seek help and know their basic rights. The poor are usually overwhelmed by the day-to-day struggles and become unable to claim or attend to their basic rights. This is very prevalent in the abject poverty I have seen in India, Palestine, Central America and in parts of the Caribbean.
Eastern cultures throughout history have been perceived as the model of equanimity. Unfortunately, stress-related disorders like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and suicide have increased at alarming rates, for instance, in India, where I have worked. The Caribbean and Latin-America also experience similar conditions. Do you know what they have in common? Yes, you guessed it—they have all been colonized at some point in their history.
Cooking from scratch seems to be a disappearing practice, especially among the poorest. Instead, they are given to consuming mostly imported canned goods. The act of preparing meals is part of eating more mindfully and with more gratitude. I am curious and eager to continue studying the impact of canned goods on the eating process. Here is an experiment for you: Stop reading this blog and go open a can of food. Try to eat it mindfully. Reflect on its history and the beings involved in its journey to your fork. What did you notice?
Pausing to Think
As I travel sharing the practice of mindful eating, I am stunned by the oppressive conditions that people continue to suffer. Think right now about where you are.
What are the historical precedents to the way people eat and live around you? What do you notice?
Are there culture-bound eating habits based on economic disparities? What do you notice when you evaluate such things?
Marianela Medrano, USA