It was an average supper for us. My partner made potato-leek soup and I put some buns on the table. We said grace and we ate. I liked the soup, so I had a second helping and another piece of bread. It wasn’t long before our soon-to-be-two-year-old was no longer interested in eating and wanted to go outside. I cleaned my bowl, finished the rest of his serving and took him out. Looking back, I think we probably sat down for 15 minutes.
As I was chasing my toddler around the yard, I was conscious of how my stomach felt: overloaded, unappreciative. I had eaten too much and too quickly. I’ve felt this way more than once. But this time it bothered me. The glut in my belly was proof that I am not often a mindful eater, that there is a disconnect between my head and my stomach that disrespects my body and the table I come to for nourishment.
You don’t have to look hard to find evidence of this disconnect in North American society. Take New York City, for example. To confront obesity, in May of last year Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg issued a city-wide ban on pop sold in servings larger than a half-litre. Places like movie theatres, restaurants, delis and street vendors were to be affected starting in March of this year.
When asked about the ban on Democracy Now!, the independent news program, food journalist and activist Michael Pollan explained its significance: “We have something called a unit bias. We basically eat or drink the amount that we’re given. . . . So by that slight nudge of changing the size of the container . . . we can affect people’s choices.”
While Bloomberg’s is a creative, albeit sneaky, idea—the ban was overridden by a State Supreme Court judge the day before it was to take effect—it isn’t transformative enough. It points to the fact that we don’t often listen to our stomachs, but that’s not enough. We need encouragement to change into the eaters that we should be. Professor and author Karen Le Billon’s book French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too) (Collins, 2012) offers such encouragement. Moving with her family from Vancouver to rural France for a year, Le Billon documents the story of how they became “happy, healthy eaters” by adapting to French food culture. Describing the French “slow food” approach, she highlights a paradox: “the French take longer to eat less.”
Le Billon claims that, while the average American spends an hour a day eating, the French take an hour to eat lunch and over an hour to eat supper. She states that they’ve mastered the discipline of “eating mindfully,” which is “the ability to listen to your body’s signals, to know when your hunger has been satisfied.”
Why do I find this slow approach to food inspiring? Because it demonstrates a respect for the table that it rightly deserves, a respect that 15 minutes can’t produce.
As a place where we gather for communion with others and God, the table is sacred. It’s a place where we are nourished, not where we simply fuel up. By taking the time to listen to our bodies and to others around the table, we “take longer to eat less,” but we also become mindful eaters who offer grace throughout the meal, not just at the start.
This may be challenging with a two-year-old in tow, but I think I’m up for the challenge. After all, he’s got to learn mindfulness, too.
Katie Doke Sawatzky (email@example.com) attends Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.