How One Eatery is Serving Up Mindfulness
In Brooklyn’s trendy Greenpoint neighborhood, at a restaurant called Eat, the head chef and the owner have created an opportunity for patrons who wish to really taste their food and savor the experience of a meal. During a trip to India, head chef Nicholas Nauman, spent time with Buddhist monks who eat their breakfast in silence, exchanging no words. He decided to bring his learning and appreciation of truly mindful eating back to the U.S. Now, according to Jordan Colón, the owner of Eat, folks can partake in a silent dining experience that otherwise may not be an option. Occasionally, the restaurant offers silent meals to people who choose to experience eating in silence. As Chef Nauman says: “It’s just an opportunity to enjoy food in a way you might not have otherwise”, while commenting on the “strong energy in the room.”
These silent meals are a $40 prix fixe, four-course meal, always planned ahead so restaurant goers can decide if this is for them or not and make reservations accordingly. At a recent evening at Eat, restaurant patrons didn’t seem to mind the silent treatment as they enjoyed their salads and sipped on their soup. One polite customer actually walked out of the door to sneeze while another had trouble holding back a strong case of the giggles. To be expected, of course. Yet there is something more to consider here. As owner Jordon Colón himself says: “It’s kind of like a meditation: “The silence speaks for itself.”
Exactly. And how encouraging and hopeful to know that mindfulness meditation practice – the “art of conscious living” – is being offered in restaurants now…or at least in one restaurant in Brooklyn. And it is encouraging as well to realize that what has been looked at as an “unusual” experience just may in due time, become mainstream. What if we all had an opportunity to practice truly tasting our food and eating in a slower manner, without the automatic conversational energy going on at the table?
In my work, I have counseled primarily women for over two decades in the area of eating mindfully. My specialty is treating eating disorders and if there is one common thread, it is mindless eating…consuming food without being aware of what is being taken in or how the body experiences the food being digested. Most of us are on automatic pilot and often don’t remember anything about a meal: how the food looked, how it smelled, how it sounded (yes, food can have a sound) or how it tasted. “Savoring” is not the usual experience.
When I work with people, we start with a mindful eating exercise: eating one raisin mindfully. We explore the raisin, put it up to our ear, put it up to our nose and finally put it into our mouth…without chewing. We notice how the body welcomes food, how the salivary glands begin to secrete juices in anticipation to the digestive process and how compelling it is to chew the raisin. Eventually we chew and then swallow the raisin, noticing how the body feels as the raisin makes its way down the alimentary canal. Often we share thoughts about the raisin such as where did it come from and who was involved in making raisins available. Sometimes there is gratitude for having food in our lives and for the opportunity to pay attention to just one raisin. It is common for folks to realize how quickly they normally eat and how mindless the experience can be.
So in a perfect world, it would be fun to push a magic button and accompany my clients to Brooklyn where we would take on a “graduate level” mindful eating experience and enjoy a meal at Eat. Yet whether it is a simple raisin or a four-course meal in a trendy neighborhood, the principle remains the same: bringing mindfulness to the experience of eating and perhaps even enjoying an entire meal in silence builds our awareness and invites us to be fully present.
I wonder if the amazing chef and the owner of Eat fully fully realize that they are intentionally inviting everyone – both locally in New York and across the nation as we read about these silent meals – to be mindful in how we eat and to truly enjoy food in a way we might not have otherwise. Perhaps meditation would seem accessible and simple (which it is) and the silence would, indeed, speak for itself, inviting us to be here now: present, aware and living in the moment, mindfully.
In light of eating mindfully and occasionally participating in a silent meal, I invite those of you who might be interested to eat one meal in silence: either by yourself or possibly as a family. With childhood obesity being rampant, allowing and encouraging a youngster to experience a truly mindful meal on a regular basis (perhaps once a week or more) could be life changing. And for those of us in leadership roles in a family setting, we would be mindful mentors for not only youth but for others close to us. Why not give it a try? We just might change our fast paced lives: one mindful meal at a time.
If you’re inspired to experience a mindful – or silent – meal at home, check out this article on the art of eating mindfully, replete with links to helpful resources to get you started. Be sure to come back and leave a comment on how you felt afterwards. It is only by cultivating more mindfulness and self compassion in your daily life that you can bring greater awareness and ease to your relationship with food and body.