A ham sandwich prepared mindfully encourages oneness, compassion and love. Through the practice of mindful feeding, we can influence not only the health of humanity, but we can inspire eaters to become their best selves, erase the invisible lines of separation placed in our minds, and contribute to a world that works for everyone.
I cooked for my family as a young adult, worked in many renowned restaurants in New York City developing my culinary skills, and owned an upscale catering business in Chicago for seventeen years before I decided to truly care about the way I fed others.
After many years of doctor’s visits and emergency room stays, my youngest daughter ultimately found relief from her illnesses through a diet centered on clean, unprocessed foods.
What began as a journey to heal my daughter emerged as a passion to serve not only the bodies of the world, but their minds and spirits as well. Seeing the world anew through the eyes of a dad with a child healed by food, I spent years transitioning my catering business to a mindful feeding program.
A mindful feeding approach requires deep listening from both cooks and eaters. It necessitates a vision and continual reminders of what matters. It accounts only to the present moment. Mindful feeding guides eaters into the process of dining while bestowing the cook with purpose and vitality. It takes care of the land and the people, and supports the community.
I work in schools where I conduct countless taste tests and surveys to refine menus that meet nutritional standards and kid palate standards. I remind kids they are the customers and their opinions are valued. And I ask the cooks what dishes ignite their passions. Through listening and engagement, kids hearts and minds open to trying new foods and eating healthy while the people who prepare the food transform from workers and mothers to warriors.
A child heard sees the power of using her voice, feels the joy of contributing to a better world, and learns how to blend their wants and desires with others. In a room full of heard children, school administrators see hope that all schools can change to mindful feeding programs, and influential politicians witness joy never seen in a school cafeteria.
I frequently hear from confused parents who are unable to process their child eating tofu or green beans or ratatouille when they won’t touch the same foods at home. When we engage in any part of the food process – growing, cooking, planning, shopping, knowing the farmer, sharing in community, distributing – we are more likely to make healthy choices that benefit ourselves and the planet.
I asked a group of students what they liked about lunch at school. A brave fifth grader raised her hand and explained, “I like to talk to people and tell them about my day.” I asked if she liked to hear about others’ day. “Oh yes,!” she said “That’s the other part – listening to my friends talk about their day.” Whether in the school lunch room, the family dinner table, or hospital cafeteria, a meal provides an opportunity to connect with the people around us as we share in the intimate exchange of ingesting food and the possibility of much more.