Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters


Dining at the Trough: Mindful Eating in an Age of Gluttony

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

New Jersey (or anywhere in the United States), I am returning from a meal at a Japanese Sushi buffet. All you can eat sushi? This sounds too good to be true. The restaurant is as big as a supermarket and four times the size of any restaurant I’ve seen in Vermont. The array of choices and the volume of food is staggering. Oysters, clams, sushi, sashimi, nori rolls, maki rolls. And if you don’t want raw, you can eat cooked Japanese and Chinese entrees by the dozens. Perhaps you’d like some tempura or BBQ, crab legs or roasted octopus? None of this is to mention desert. Unlike supermarkets, this is all meant to be eaten now. And people were eating, including myself, lining up like pigs at a trough. The Buddhist meal chant prepares us to eat in a mindful manner. It can be translated as follows:

This meal is the labor of countless beings, let us remember their toil.

Defilements are many, exertions weak, to we deserve this offering?

Gluttony stems from greed, let us be moderate.

Our life is sustaiend by this offering, let us be grateful.

We take this food to attain the Buddhaway.

We can throw moderation right out of the window. This expereince is designed for gluttony. People, myself among them, make multiple trips to the buffet expanse. At least we’re getting some exercise as we do so. It’s hard to conceive al lthe actions that resulted in this meal being oferred. Even a simple meal comprises countless events. The food must be grown, harvested, transporrted, prepared, and served. The soil must be nurtred by earthworms and bacteria. Rain must fall. The sun must shine. When we eat in this way, boudndless entincing food that just appears, we can’t possibly appreciate the complex intertwining events that bring this miracle of food to our table. How many fish offerered their lives? How much reverence do we offer in return? Early humans worked hard to secure food or perished. We inherit the tendency to gorge to balance the eventual famine. But today, we have no famine. Food is never ending, always available, and as a result we tend to become obese. Approximately 25% of Americans are obese and the trends are getting worse. The sheer abundence of such “all-you-can-eat” dining options can’t be helping the problem. The second stanza of the Buddhist meal chant asks if we have made sufficient effort to warrant this food? Have we worked to be mindful? (and if we are at such a trough it’s likely we are risk for mindlessness).

While our life is susatined by this food we could be sustained by much less. When I look around at my fellow human beings at the trough, I don’t detect gratitude. I sense entitlement. I pay my money (and a ridiculous low amount at that) so I get to eat as much as I want. And this is why people come, to eat without restriction. This gives us a distorted sense of how much food there is on this planet. It obscures the fact that in many regions of the world, including the United States people don’t have enough to eat (in fact, 1 of 4 children in the U.S. do not get adequate nutrition).

We take this food to attain the buddhaway? Why do we eat? For obvious reasons, of course, but why do we eat in this way? This restaurant was packed; the concept of all-you-can-eat is popular. I’m still digesting my meal, hours later. 



  • http://www.MindfulTimeManagement.com/blog Janet Bailey

    This is very much on my mind, as I just overindulged at a couple of buffets over the past few days. Interesting how buffets trigger a state of urgency and disconnection in me, masquerading as excitement and pleasure. It’s difficult to savor at a buffet! Gratitude seems like a good place to start.

  • http://exquisitemind.com Dr. Arnie Kozak

    I try to avoid buffets as a general rule. There is a new book out by Deirdre Barret called: Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose. I have not read it yet, but I heard her on NPR. I think the buffet experience exploits these primal urges and allow the emotional brain to hijack the rational brain. Buffets are most certainly “supernormal stimuli.” Thanks for reading and your comment.

  • karina_b

    You could, of course eat mindfully at a buffet, if you went only every now and then and thought of it as a feast, a celebration– and thought, wow, this was a lot of work for these people to produce all these different varieties of food. Why should we automatically think that the owner of the buffet restaurant, or the cooks there, didn’t make that food with as much mindfulness as the cook at the smaller place down the street? How about being able to savor the few selections of things that you really like that are on your plate, that you got to choose from the variety in front of you? It’s hard to do in the face of so much food but in truth, it doesn’t have to be “about” the buffet, but about how we approach the buffet, maybe. We can learn from it, and use it to practice mindfulness.

  • Louise

    Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to eat it.
    If god wanted you to be a pig he would give you four legs and a tale.

  • choo-chee

    I appreciate your thoughts. I am, at the moment, arranging to hold a “mindful dinner” at my house. I am searching for readings and games and such to bring our awareness to the entire experience of food. I love the Buddhist prayer before the meal. I love what Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about eating an orange, and washing the dishes! He is my hero.

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