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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When You Eat, Just Eat

When I was a kid, certain phrases were repeated constantly at the dinner table: "Don't play with your food." "Chew with your mouth closed." "Don't talk with your mouth full." "Chew your food, don't just wolf it down."

Good advice, common sense. And yet it's surprising to me how many people I meet whose parents apparently didn't harp on these phrases.

This last one, "chew your food," is an interesting one. Google the phrase and you'll find lots of articles extolling the virtue of chewing. It enhances digestion, cuts down on food costs, helps with weight loss--the list is extensive.

But the Zen practitioner would bring it all down to one expression: "When you eat, just eat."

When I lived in Japan, I noticed several interesting cultural taboos related to this concept.

For example, it's considered poor manners to waver one's chopsticks over the communal plates. One should decide what one wants, reach out, retrieve it, and eat it.

Likewise, it is considered unseemly to eat while walking down the street (or, I suppose, in modern times, driving). Food is to be appreciated, as indicated by the exclamation "Itadakimasu!" said before eating, meaning "I humbly receive," and expressing appreciation for the food. It's meant to focus one mindfully on the act of eating.

Try it. Focus on eating, without reading, watching TV, or perhaps even talking. You'll appreciate your food more.

And you'll be happier.

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