I’ve heard a lot about the philosophical zombie lately. My favorite science fiction author is writing a book with a philosophical zombie premise. Every time I was in the vicinity of a political ad this past October, I couldn’t help but be reminded that many politicians think we are all zombies. Finally, reading Reinventing the Meal: How Mindfulness Can Help You Slow Down, Savor the Moment, and Reconnect with the Ritual of Eating, I found that it’s all about the philosophical zombie in the area of food consumption.
The philosophical zombie is exactly like a human being, save that it doesn’t have conscious awareness, and it doesn’t think. We’ve all had episodes of zombie-dom. The most common example I’ve heard of is when you drive to work and can’t remember the drive. Your body does the drive on automatic.
In “Reinventing the Meal,” author Pavel Somov opines that many of us are food zombies. We eat. We don’t think about what we’re eating, or why. This mindless eating can result in eating too much, not eating the right foods, not enjoying our meals, and not respecting where the food came from. The book does a decent job of describing a plan that readers can follow to go from being food zombies to conscious and mindful eaters.
Somov’s plan starts with redefining the “course” in “three-course meal.” Instead of a three-course meal consisting of an appetizer, main course, and desert, Somov suggests that we should redefine it to be more of an eating process that includes relaxation, connecting with your body, and connecting with your food.
Somov dishes out a bunch of tips, or “amuse-bouches,” to help readers redefine the courses of their meals. As I read the tips, I couldn’t help but compare each one to a micro-blog or Facebook entry. Some examples of these tidbits are:
“We are tubes—conscious, even spiritual, but nevertheless digestive tubes that metabolize the environment, through a one-way transaction, to keep on living” (p. 18).
“Desert is entertainment for an empty mind with an already full stomach” (p. 97).
The first of Somov’s “courses” is to reconnect with your body by relaxing. He suggests humming before eating, or mmm-ing, and cites research that indicates we release nitrous oxide when we do this. Nitrous oxide relaxes us. Somov also points out that it’s more important to breathe out slowly than to breathe in slowly. Breathing out slowly is relaxing.
The second course is to reconnect with your mind. Clear your mind to get rid of any emotional baggage that might tempt you to overeat, the author says. Preload your meal by drinking a couple glasses of water. Clear out your nasal passages (going so far as to use a Neti Pot if necessary), and then preload your meal with smell. Hot food emits more molecules than cold food, so heat up your food. Take a deep whiff and mmm, or hum, it out slowly.
The third course is to reconnect with the world through your food. The “third course” chapter amounts to breaking a bunch of habits. When you eat your meal by habit, you aren’t thinking, and therefore aren’t mindful, we’re told. So, we are to try to break our habits by doing new or different things. Try different foods, Somov writes. Eat with your left hand if you’re right handed. Think about your plate and trace its shape with your finger. Use different utensils than you normally would. Sit with different posture. Learn what full is and stop eating when you’re 80 percent full. Eat just enough. Pause half way through your meal. Use only one bowl for your meal and wash it between each different food you eat. Close your eyes as you eat or change your setting.
From experience I can say that removing vision and setting can make a difference in eating mindfulness. I went to a “Blind Café” for dinner with my family once. The event is held in a room completely sealed off from light. There’s not a single LED blinking in the room or a drop of illumination. It’s darker than being outside at midnight. At the Blind Café, I tasted and experienced every morsel of food during that meal like I never had before — and I enjoyed it.
Somov also discusses eating mindfully in the social setting. Anyone that’s ever been on a diet knows that social eating can be the downfall of the best diets, and Somov posits that this is because group meals are time-based (instead of hunger-based), are “group mind” events, are distracting, and can be emotional.
He suggests shifting your focus at these meals by changing your mindset from social eating to social savoring, from all you can eat to all you can taste, and from a mouthful of food to an earful of attention. I’m not sure keeping his ideas in mind in a group-meal setting is that easily done. I do think, however, at least in the beginning of training yourself to eat mindfully, that group meals should be kept to a minimum. (And training is like forming a habit, so I wonder: Can you train yourself to do anything mindfully?)
As I read “Reinventing the Meal,” I kept mentally comparing it to Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink. I liked “Mindless Eating” better, probably because it describes a bunch of food experiments (some of which are unexpected and funny). “Reinventing the Meal” is good, too: it just has less science and more philosophy than Wansink’s book.
If you’re interested in food, why we eat what we eat when we eat it, and the philosophical approach, then Somov’s book is definitely worth picking up.
Reinventing the Meal: How Mindfulness Can Help You Slow Down, Savor the Moment, and Reconnect with the Ritual of Eating
New Harbinger Publications, September, 2012
Paperback, 216 pages