Read that headline again, just in case you missed the magic word. Go ahead, it’s really in there. Something that I’ve realized is actually, really, honestly magical.
Noticed. As in, “made note of,” “perceived”, “became aware of.” When was the last time you can remember having this distinct, identifiable, in-the-moment experience with your food? Was it a particularly good meal? Something you’d waited for, worked for, or taken a while to prepare? A meal someone else cooked for you, maybe for a special occasion? Maybe it was something new, or something you had once a long time ago, and had just found again.
I think it’s easy to be in the moment, to be in the act of noticing, of attending to a meal when there’s something about the meal that’s inherently remarkable. Food can be tremendously evocative of long-forgotten memories or inspiring of new dreams. And I think it’s a fairly widely held experience, to revel occasionally in that feeling, when the moment is right.
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the food we think is more mundane, less special, more routine. The things we snack on. The go-to meal when the hours are short, the workday has dragged on, and the kids are clamoring for food and more. How many of those occasions have you savored in the last week? How many did you revel in, and find yourself appreciating, examining, evaluating each morsel? How many can you remember, at all?
Don’t worry, this happens to all of us. And while I can rant on about the hectic pace of modern life, our always-on connected selves, or disconnection from the sources and lives of the food we eat and where it comes from – I’m not going to do that. Because I think it’s largely pointless. No one likes to be lectured about what they should be doing, especially with regard to something so essential and functional as the food we eat.
But I’ll submit that I don’t think it has to be this way – I don’t think that the “specialness” of a meal or snack needs to rely on its external circumstances. The act of noticing – of taking just a moment to actively and intentionally think about the thing we’re eating – can actually transform the mundane into the magical. That act of presence can be transformative, even if just for a moment.
And lest you think it’s all happy unicorns and giggling puppies, let me be blunt: this act of noticing will not always produce a pleasing, reassuring observation. Sometimes you will realize things like:
- The way that granola bar gets bits of oats stuck in your back teeth, and you’ve no choice but to jam a fingernail back there and pry the little beast loose.
- How patchy, sticky and dizzy you feel after finishing a bowl of ice cream outside, once the refreshing coolness has given way to the dank, insipid swelter of a summer afternoon.
- The dull, sinusy ache of a meal eaten too quickly while driving and checking your text messages.
I’m not judging – these are experience I’ve had myself (of course, never the texting while driving. Never. Not even once, when I really needed to get the address of the building I was looking for.) But they’re the inevitable price we pay for taking the time to observe our present, to be truly in the moment.
And, I think, they’re the reason we often choose not to do that.
But – and here’s the magical part – the more frequently you do this, the better your chances of making a choice that you feel good about. When you notice the feeling – good or bad – that an otherwise automatic choice of what you eat means for your state of mind and sense of your body, you create a reference point for the next time you need to make that choice.
You come to realize that there are no “good” or “bad” choices of food, only points of data.
There are no failures, only discoveries.