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I didn't know that I was being mindful

'When you cut the carrot, cut the carrot' Zen saying

The Woolworths magazine was out this week and on its double-spread page of this and that at the beginning of the magazine, mostly promoting later parts of the magazine were a few sentences headed: Cook consciously.

As the double-page spread was headed Feel Good and contained a few 'healthy' tips, although not all of them were, I suppose having a few words on mindfulness - for that is what it was, was perfectly apposite.

It was actually the only thing that really caught my eye in this month's edition. Which fact is very possibly the subject of a post to come.

So I decided to look up the idea of mindfulness in association with cooking and indeed found there were 16,700,000 million items you could look at. So it is indeed a thing. I was dimly aware of mindfulness as a concept and, quite ignorantly I must say, had it in my head as being a quick sort of meditation. Not that I know a lot about meditation although, again quite ignorantly, I sort of see meditation as emptying your mind in an attempt to be at one with the universe or some higher being, or some such.

Not really my thing - and the reason I have never been attracted to Buddhism and the like in spite of some of its general precepts - ditto for Christianity really. If everyone did what Jesus originally said the world would be a far better place.

But I digress. It seems that when it comes to mindfulness Andy Puddicombe, joint founder of Headspace is the current poster boy. Well that was the impression I got from my very brief and superficial searching. After reading some of his words, and also those of a few others, I decided that mindfulness is, in a way, the direct opposite of meditation because it requires your complete attention to the moment.

"eat cake, just think about what you’re eating and why you’re eating it." Andy Puddicombe

It's nothing to do in particular with good health, although, of course, there are a huge number of health food gurus of different stripes who would also be embracing mindfulness.

"The whole ethos of mindfulness is to encourage people to live in the moment. The theory goes that we are so busy trying to block out past worries and anticipate future ones that we rarely concentrate on enjoying what we are doing at the precise moment we are doing it. Devotees claim mindfulness can be applied to everything from walking and running to sex and eating." Morwenna Ferrier - The Guardian

Apparently what you are actually doing doesn't seem to matter. Well it seems to me that its precepts could be interpreted that way. Which leads one to wonder if you are being mindful if you are doing something completely evil, or even mildly bad - like eating cake - as long as you are 'in the moment' and experiencing every nuance of that moment with every sense. Which I find a bit chilling.

As to living entirely in the present I really don't think this is possible or even desirable. Unless we think about, learn about, the past then we will not understand what to avoid in the future, or why we do the things we do. We learn from history - or we should, although politicians in particular never seem to. As to the future - if we don't think about what we would like the future to be then we cannot plan a road to that ideal future. Even things like holidays are just not possible without thinking into the future. Or tomorrow's dinner. They require planning.

Indeed when you turn to food there is a whole lot of future planning and past understanding that, by necessity goes into every meal. A lot of thought. The present moment involved in preparing a meal is increasingly brief in today's busy world.

"Cooking provides a wonderful opportunity to be present, mindful and aware, as opposed to being distracted, stressed or overwhelmed. It is an opportunity to train the mind, to understand what it means to be in the here and now, with a healthy sense of appreciation, patience, and a non-judgmental attitude. It’s also an opportunity to get back in touch with the food that you eat." Andy Puddicombe - Headspace

One example that Puddlecombe gave was shopping for food, and how one should give one's full attention to what one was buying, through all the senses.

"Be mindful of the ingredients you cook with: Consciously think about each and every ingredient you cook with. What is its taste, smell, and texture? What will it add to the dish? Where does it come from, and how was it grown or produced? When you become curious about the ingredients you’re using, you’ll begin to appreciate those ingredients more, and source and handle them with extra care and consideration." Andy Puddlecombe

And yes I quite see the sensory pleasure you can get from wandering through the fresh food section of a supermarket, even more through a market of course. But he also says that you should be thinking at the same time about where it came from and the long history behind your every choice. Potentially interesting, yes, but ultimately very stressful. If you think too hard of where your food comes from you can get yourself into quite a state, whether it is through contemplation of past colonial evils, or current production methods, not to mention animal cruelty and what half of the writing on the labels means, and whether your husband likes it or your friend can eat it. I entirely see the sensory enjoyment of sniffing melons, enjoying the beauty of it all, touching the knobbly skins of avocados, hearing the cries of market vendors and surreptitiously, tasting the odd grape but as well as that sensory enjoyment there is always the immense amount of thought - even minor stress - that goes into deciding how much to consider the environmental, health, commercial, social and political issues behind it all.

But let's get back to Woolworths and their four points about conscious/mindful cooking, because, interestingly - they are in the business of selling after all - they don't mention shopping. They have four things to say - all about cooking. Number 1:

"Giving your full attention to whatever you're doing wile you're doing it, whether it be washing herbs, chopping vegetables or kneading dough"

The gurus tell you to turn off the music/radio, remove your phone and other electronic devices and other distractions. Easy enough to say but if you're a mum pretty difficult to put into practice I would suggest. Besides I think you can give almost all of your attention to what you are actually doing whilst at the same time listening to music or keeping a vague eye on what your child is doing. Then again maybe not.

Number two:

"Choosing one dish a week that you make from scratch. For example, try your hand at whipping up a loaf of bread, pasta or dumplings"

David has just made his loaf of bread, so that's covered. Maybe I should really have a go at that apple jam. Apples are really quite cheap at the moment. Yes I endorse this idea, although is it really mindfulness? Of course there is a huge amount of pleasure to be gained from making your own jam, pickles, chutneys, etc. but in and of itself it's not mindful is it? Possibly thoughtful in the sense that you are making 'real' jam from 'real' fruit rather than buying mass produced jam, but mindful?

Number 3:

"Using all of your senses when cooking with produce. Note its colour, scent and how it feels while you're handling it."

I think I do this anyway. I find it immensely soothing to chop things up, mix them together, etc. and I get enormous pleasure from the beauty of all the ingredients - well there is beauty everywhere if you just look isn't there?

And last of all:

"Enjoying the sensations of cooking. For example, listen to how veggies sizzle when they're added to the pan and observe how pork skin changes in colour, shape and texture as it transforms into crackling."

Cooking is magic. You start with a set of ingredients and a few implements and in the process of cooking they are transformed into something completely other. There is sometimes excitement, sometimes calm and serenity, and there is always more pleasure at the end of the process when you get to eat it.

But do you have to do it all alone? Do you have to ban others? I can think of nothing more fun than cooking with a group of friends or with the family. Sure there are sometimes arguments. Those two contrasting proverbs are completely apt here - Too many cooks spoil the broth and Many hands make light work. The cooking process is perhaps harder to manage than the eating one, but surely at least half of the joy of professional cooks comes from the excitement and buzz of a kitchen in full flight.

As to dining - the extreme mindfulness gurus would have you eating in complete silence, savouring every mouthful with every sense fully engaged. Jay Rayner of

got quite angry about this:

"a dining table wreathed in contemplative silence is a special kind of unmourned death." Jay Rayner

No - the dinner table - well any meal really - should be a chance to really commune with others, to engage with the world, practise your ideas in a safe environment. I know that my youthful family meals were loud affairs. There were definitely arguments but it was stimulating and life affirming. I fear that David, being so poor when young, did not experience this - I suspect there may not even have been a dining table. But then there were school lunches which compensated perhaps, and university meals where the food probably left something to be desired were nevertheless wonderful group experiences.

So thank you Woolworths for making me think about all of this but I think I do the sensory stuff already, and the worrying (and appreciation) of about where it all comes from, but I really don't think I need to meditate about it in a conscious way.


On that same page Woolworths also had this suggestion which might be a good one for parents wanting their children to get more involved in cooking:

"Explore the array of international dishes with your family by helping the kids research a different cuisine every week, then choosing a recipe to cook from your findings."


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