The blessing before a meal in Ghana is a simple one:
Earth, when I am about to die, I lean on you
Earth, when I am alive I depend on you
Before and after meals, in good times and bad, when planting crops or at harvest time the world celebrates; giving ritual thanks to a spirit, god or mother earth for the gift of food. Part gratitude, part reverence, blessings like these are also a reminder that what and how we eat not only affects our physical state, but also our emotional and spiritual well-being.
Nutritionist Rebecca Katz believes that a pause for thought before a meal “gives you the opportunity to breathe and fully take in the sight and smell of your food.” That pause, she says, puts our body in a parasympathetic state and makes it easier to digest our food. You might call it mindful eating.
The idea that food affects mind, body and spirit is not new. Even before Hippocrates so wisely said “let medicine be your food and food be your medicine”the foundation of health in the Oriental view was that we should eat according to who we are.
It’s an idea that resonates strongly in western holistic practices today, and especially with those who work with energy. The reason is simple: energy or chi is as much a part of us as what we eat, and the cultivation of that life force is essential to our health.
Although most food energy is beneficial, even healing, the trick is to know what is best for us as individuals and how to make the most of it.
The Oriental science of Food Energetics works on the principle that both our bodies and the food we eat have energetic properties that can (or should) be matched and balanced for optimum health.
In a world governed by this principle a label on a pack of celery for example, would tell you that it’s a cool food with a bitter/sweet taste that counteracts heat, helps drain water from the body, and benefits the liver and stomach.
That is very useful information; more so, you may argue, than knowing how many carbs or calories or grams of fat per serving it contains.
Either way, there’s more you can do to maximize the benefits of food energy. Here are a few suggestions for making the most of a meal.
* Know what you need
If you haven’t learnt from experience what is best for your body it’s worth consulting a nutritionist.
* Grow your own
The old hippie mantra is best applied to fruit and veg, because the very best way to make the most of your foods’ energy content is to cut down the distance from earth to plate. A tomato picked and eaten at the vine is sweet, juicy, succulent; more so if your time and energy has gone into the growing. If you can’t grown your own, at the very least try to buy fresh and local.
* Keep it simple
Minimise the fuss, simplify the preparation. The more you mess with your food in-between harvesting and eating the more you reduce its energy content. Steam rather than boil, reduce cooking times where you can, and pay attention. By this I mean work mindfully: food prep is to eating what the journey is to the destination, so make the most of it.
Take a breath. Pause. Acknowledge the source. Taste every mouthful, and enjoy the meal.