A Buddhist view on eating meals

Eating is central to nutrition, how we eat is seldom discussed. This is the view of a well known Buddhist teacher on eating meals

Thich Nhat Hanh
Eating Mindfully
A few years ago, I asked some children, “What is the purpose of eating breakfast?” One boy replied, “To get energy for the day.” Another said, “The purpose of eating breakfast is to cat break­fast.” 1 think the second child is more correct. The purpose of eating is to eat.
Eating a meal in mindfulness is an important practice. We turn off the TV, put down our newspaper, and work together for five or ten minutes, setting the table and finishing whatever needs to be done. During these few minutes, we can be very happy. When the food is on the table and everyone is seated, we practice breathing: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile,” three times. We can recover ourselves completely after three breaths like this.
Then, we look at each person as we breathe in and out in order to be in touch with ourselves and everyone at the table. We don’t need two hours to see another person. If we are really settled within ourselves, we only need to look for one or two seconds,
and id that is enough to see. I think that if a family has five members, only about five or ten seconds are needed to practice this “ looking and seeing.”
After breathing, we smile. Sitting at the table with other
people, we have a chance to offer an authentic smile of friendship and understanding. It is very easy, but not many people do it. To me, this is the most important practice. We look at each person and smile at him or her. Breathing and smiling together is a very important practice. If die people in a household cannot smile at each other, the situation is very dangerous.
After breathing and smiling, we look down at the food in a
way that allows the food to become real. This food reveals our
connection with the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth. The extent to which our food reveals itself depends on us. We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating;, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.
Having the opportunity to sit with our family and friends and
enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family. This is a very deep practice. We do not need to go to a temple or a church in order to practice ;. We can practice it right at our dinner table. Mindful eating can cultivate seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen us to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.
In order to aid mindfulness during meals, you may like to eat silently from time to time. Your first silent meal may cause you to feel a little uncomfortable, but once you become used to it, you will realize that meals in silence bring much peace and happiness. Just as we turn off the TV before eating, we can “turn off” the talking in order to enjoy the food and the presence of one another.
I do not recommend silent meals every day. Talking to each other can be a wonderful way to be together in mindfulness. But we have to distinguish among different kinds of talk. Some subjects can separate us: for instance, if we talk about other people’s shortcomings. The carefully prepared food will have no value if we let this kind of talk dominate our meal. When instead we speak about things that nourish our awareness of the food and our being together, we cultivate the kind of happiness that is necessary for us to grow. If we compare this experience with the experience of talking about other people’s shortcomings, we will realize that the awareness of the piece of bread in our mouth is much more nourishing. It brings life in and makes life real.
So, while eating, we should refrain from discussing subjects that can destroy our awareness of our family and the food. But we should feel free to say things that can nourish awareness and happiness. For instance, if there is a dish that you like very much, you can notice if other people are also enjoying it, and if one of them is not, you can help him or her appreciate the wonderful dish prepared with loving care. If someone is thinking about something other than the good food on the table, such as his dif­ficulties in the office or with friends, he is losing the present
moment and the food. You can say, “This dish is wonderful don’t you agree?” to draw him out of his thinking and worries and bring him back to the here and now, enjoying you, enjoying the wonderful dish.

Martin Eastwood
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