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:
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.
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!
FoundHealth: Obesity-triggered Diabetes & Mindful Treatment
New York Times: Mindful Eating as Food for Thought
The Center for Mindful Eating: Principles of Mindful Eating
Special thanks to Casson Trenor, Senior Markets Campaigner at Greenpeace and the inspiration for this piece.
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