The United States has an obesity problem. It is an epidemic that has been drummed into any semi-aware American’s head, often to the point where it is drowned out like ambient noise. Some of the obesity problem (roughly 35% of our population is obese) can be accounted for by our community’s consumption of meat: the average American ate 224 lbs of meat in 2010!

To combat this problem, a slew of dietary suggestions have been made by physicians. These range from eating less meat all together, to substituting red meats with higher quality meats such as fish. While our society would be unquestionably healthier if we heeded this ‘fishy’ advice, the focus on changing the kinds & amounts of meat we eat shirks the true issue: we, as a collective society, have lost touch with our meat’s identity.

The Japanese have a saying – itadakimasu – directly translating to ‘I take your life.’ While today it is used as an equivalent to ‘bon appétit,’ it traditionally held a much larger significance: it was an acknowledgement that, for one being to survive, often another must die. It recognized that, instead of making the ultimate sacrifice for man’s nourishment, that animal could have survived to enjoy a life of bountiful nourishment and fecundity.

In today’s world of large-scale meat production, there is (at least) six degrees of separation between our meat and us; through this separation, we have forgotten our food’s identity by failing to recognize that our meat was once alive and thriving, the value championed by the saying itadakimasu. Our failure to recognize the sacrifice of animals has caused us to consume meat excessively, and this consumption is a fundamental root of our obesity today.

To make meaningful progress in combating the obesity epidemic, we must be more mindful towards the meat we consume. We must enjoy our meat, whether it is beef, pork, poultry or fish, with an awareness of the interconnection between ourselves and the animal, and the impact our consumption choices have on the planet. With more mindfulness, our temptation to over-indulge will reduce, and as a direct result, our health will improve.

Mindful eating is a challenging endeavor that must be consciously practiced everyday. Here are two tips and additional resources for getting started:

1. Consciously remember that your meat comes from an animal, not a supermarket.

American supermarkets are notorious for excess (Costco, anyone?). When we see a row of grilled chickens, pounds of deli meat, and thousands of cans of tuna stacked on the shelf, it is easy to forget that meat doesn’t ‘grow on trees.’ Next time you stock up, remember to recognize that an animal has made a sacrifice for your nourishment and well-being.

2. Treat meal preparation as an art form.

The Japanese artfully prepare seafood in the form of sushi – the exquisite craftsmanship and vibrant colors encourage consumers to consciously enjoy each piece, and the smaller portions reduce the temptation to gorge. The inherent respect and artistic principals of sushi should be applied to all meals, whether they consist of meat and/or vegetables.

3. Make your eating experience a sensory orgasm.

Your food might be beautiful, so take note. Maybe even Instagram it. Take deep breaths and enjoy the smell before you take a bite. When you do take that elusive first bite, chew slowly. Notice the texture, and see if you can identify the different herbs and spices. Listen to yourself chew, as it will help you maintain a slow pace.

4. Practice patience before you pounce for seconds.

Satiation signals take time for our brains to process. Give it ten minutes, and then see if you are still hungry. By waiting, we lessen the risk of over-eating, and show respect for our body’s health and our world’s finite bounty.

Here’s to mindful eating and a healthy future! Itadakimasu!

Additional Resources

FoundHealth: Obesity-triggered Diabetes & Mindful Treatment
http://www.foundhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/mind

New York Times: Mindful Eating as Food for Thought
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/mindful-eating-as-food-for-thought.html?_r=4&pagewanted=all

The Center for Mindful Eating: Principles of Mindful Eating
http://www.tcme.org/principles.htm

Special thanks to Casson Trenor,  Senior Markets Campaigner at Greenpeace and the inspiration for this piece.

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11 Responses to Mindful Eating: Remembering our Food’s Identity

  1. Susan says:

    While I agree with the point that we are better off being mindful regarding the real source(s) of our food, I disagree that the obesity problem in the US is from eating too much meat across the board. For alot of us, the problem is in consuming too much carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates and manufactured carbs like high fructose corn syrup. I have only been able to lose weight with a diet primarily of non-starchy vegetables, adequate protein (animal based) and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, fish oils). The animal based protein is as much as possible from locally grown grass/pasture-raised animals and chickens, which have a much healthier array of fats than mass produced animals. Whole grains may be nice, but my body treats them as sugars (which is what they break down into). Sugars, not fat, increase the likelihood of becoming obese.

    • vsingh says:

      Hi Susan-

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I think it is great that you are so familiar with what works for your body, and that you enjoy locally-sourced meat. I do agree that there are several factors that account for the obesity epidemic today, many of which are not meat related (High Fructose Corn Syrup, excessive carbohydrate consumption). The primary point I am making is not that meat is THE fundamental culprit in obesity, but that excessive consumption of food is. This problem manifests itself in many ways, and I think the meat industry is a great example (20 chicken nuggets at McDonald’s for $4.99…) If we can eat more mindfully in general, our health will undoubtedly improve. Being a conscientious meat-consumer is a great way to start.

      • Ronald says:

        I fully agree with Susan. It’s not only the (mass produced animal) nuggets, but the MSG (and other free glutamates) on the nuggets one has to be concerned about. Rather get added flavors from garden herbs and pure (not premixed) spice.

  2. Anthony says:

    Amazing read!!

  3. Rob Elliott says:

    I absolutely agree that we have lost our connection to the food we eat, and that a reconnection is vital if we are to have any chance at all to fix our health and that of the planet. I also agree with Susan that it is carbohydrates, not fat, that leads to obesity. Sugars turn to fat – real fats are essential to digestion. However, the fundamental difference is between real food and artificial food. Real food is what sustained the human species for millennia (and it includes meat, fish, plants, dairy products, nuts fruits and seeds). Artificial food is the product of an industrialised food system that has wrecked us and the planet over the last hundred years or so, and it includes feedlot beef, commodity milk and ‘industrial organic’ vegetables as well as all the highly processed and refined packets and cans. Without going into detail here, it is the consumption of these imitation foods that lies at the root of the obesity epidemic and has heaped upon the human race all of the other ‘diseases of civilisation.’

    Fixing the mess means turning our backs on industriasl food and seeking out those who still produce real food. Making that connection with real food producers renews a true relationship with the growing and harvesting of food and will re-establish our spiritual connection with our food. The principles of itadakimasu will then help us to find our rightful place in the great interconnected lifeforce of this planet.

  4. Casson says:

    Wonderful piece. I’m flattered by the shout-out and elated to hear that my work inspired you. Yours inspires me as well. Keep it up!

    c

  5. [...] Posted August 15th, 2012. In today’s world of large-scale meat production, we have forgotten our food’s identity by failing to recognize the source of our meat is once alive and thriving,  the value championed by the traditional Japanese saying itadakimasu. Read more. [...]

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