What is Informing Your Choices Around Food?
Most people have no idea what informs their choices. You move through life making hundreds of decisions every day unaware of what motives your choices. Take food for example. In first-world countries people typically eat three meals a day. That means that they are making a choice, conscious or not, about what they are going to eat at each meal. In addition to choosing what food they will eat, they will also decide when and where, the quality and of course the quantity.
You’re probably reading this and thinking that you rarely make that much of a conscious choice about how you eat, unless you have dietary needs that you choose to follow. Like so much of what we do in life, we typically act sub-consciously when it comes to food choices. Evidence of how unaware we are around our food choices is the epidemic of life-style diseases that pervade first-world countries. Most of the programming around food in first-world countries is ‘want’ based, and is generally informed by advertising. This is an example of unconscious food choices. Next time you watch TV see how many commercials are about food.
I am writing this blog at Auckland Domestic Airport awaiting my next flight. A man with a tray of food is looking for somewhere to sit and eat. I beckon him to join me, which he does. He is middle-aged, well dressed and is in senior management. With all of the available choices (and some are very healthy), he chose a tray of fast-food – two large burgers, large fries and a large Coke®. I thought it ironic that this presented at this moment. I ended up talking to him about awareness, as he quickly devoured his lunch. I was reminded of the years when I ate unconsciously. I ate to fill an empty space that could never be filled with food, which resulted in me being 143kg. I became aware of what I was eating when I became more conscious of loving myself. Once that happened, the weight began to disappear (so did the hair, it seems!).
Certain religions have strict rules about what you can and can’t eat. In these circumstances devotees of the religion are very conscious about their choices. The want to avoid the suffering that accompanies God’s judgement. People with food sensitivities (eg, MSG, gluten, eggs and peanuts) are very aware of what they eat. They want to avoid the suffering of painful reactions. And of course people who are wanting to lose weight follow strict diets, making them very aware of what they can and can’t eat. They want to avoid suffering that accompanies being over-weight. It would seem that suffering has the capacity to have us be more aware. People in third-world countries are very aware of what they eat because of how little they have. They want to avoid the suffering of hunger and starvation.
Generally, the more you are suffering, the more mindful you are. Anytime you are put into a position to make a choice, you can either make a conscious or an unconscious choice. That means you are either being mindful or not. For example, if you are suffering from diabetes you will be much more aware (posses the knowledge and understanding) of what food choices either serve you or don’t as a diabetic. If the prospect of disease complications that typically arise from diabetes and its associated suffering is a concern, you will be more mindful of your choices. Of course, if missing out on refined carbohydrates causes you to suffer, then you will choose to postpone your suffering until later, when it compounds.
There is an article in today’s local paper that reads, ‘The health system could save $100 million a year if Australians ate 10% more vegetables a day…and vegetable growers’ profits would be boosted by $23 million. The report said more than 90% of Australians did not eat the right amount of vegetables and Australia was 63rd in the world for vegetable consumption per head.’ I recently heard of a city in the USA that has made a commitment to raising the consciousness of low socio-economic people in their city regarding more serving choices of food.
The city has offered this sector of their population $25 boxes of fresh fruit and vegetable, sufficient to feed a family for a week. They even managed to get the US Government to agree to allow these people to use their food stamps. The city council went to local broad-acre farmers and encouraged them to shift to market gardening to grow the produce needed for this program, which many did. This is how it works. People place their orders. They go to a central market on a Saturday and pickup their produce. While they are at the market, the city arranged for cooks and chef’s to be there and to run demonstrations on how to prepare the food that was in season. They would go home with recipes and an understanding of how to use the food.
The city also arranged for consumers to be bussed out to the farms to see how their food is grown, and to meet the people who were growing their food. The farmers were then invited to go to the markets and meet their consumers on their home turf. With this approach, not only is it about healthier food, it is also about healthier communities. Creating places where people get to meet and care about each other. Food has a great ‘healing’ context and wasn’t only an end in its self. With expanded awareness, this city was creating a more conscious, healthier population.
Take a moment to reflect on how you relate to food in your life. What is the quality of the food you are eating? What quantities of food do you eat? Are you caught up with ‘fast food’ and do you even know what ‘slow food’ is? (Most major cities in Australia have a Slow Food Movement group meeting on a regular basis.) Is your health suffering because of what you eat? Do you know who is growing your food? Do you visit farmers markets?
That said, I want to finish with one last thought.
‘Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man…those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart; and they defile the man’ Matthew 15:11,18.
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