The Slow Eating Revolution
As soon as I returned to the workforce post children, I quickly mastered the ‘unzenlike’ art of multitasking. On Monday morning, I’d head down into the trenches to emerge again on Friday night, happy but worn out and exhausted. The only way to keep up the good fight was to be super organised and like most working parents, I managed this by staying continually on the move. If I was helping with homework, I was folding laundry. If I was cooking dinner, I had the phone jammed against my ear. Before long, I had grown accustomed to feeling slightly overwhelmed – most the time. Mind you, being ‘busy’ is a sort of currency. You trade off having any sort of headspace for the grand prize of being useful and organised.
But then my work circumstances changed and I finally had the opportunity to try something different. For some time, I had secretly believed that constant multitasking was ineffectual and as it turns out, my gut instinct may have been right. The latest research shows that the brain doesn’t multitask all that well and that doing even two or three things at once puts it under considerable pressure. (No kidding?) And the reason why women may do it better than men is because we have more at stake. In other words, our motivation to complete many tasks at once is pretty high, often at our own expense.
So in 2011, ‘mindfulness’ has become my goal but an objective like ‘slowing down’ is actually quite difficult to define in real terms. I needed a much more tangible goal. So I decided that speed eating had to go (which is sort of a shame because I am really good at it). Speed eating had gradually become our nightly ritual whereby a meal is prepared and served in ten minutes flat and devoured in even less time. Sometimes standing up. Don’t get me wrong, speed eating still allows time for meaningful family conversation like, “You didn’t give me enough money for the bus today.” or ‘My lunch was awful. You know I hate tuna!” Or my personal favourite, “I’m late for ballet.” But generally our evening meal was over long before we had a chance to discuss global warming or world peace. We do have a dining room but more and more often, we were eating at the kitchen bench because if you are a good shot, you could almost throw the dishes right into the sink as soon as you finished your meal. We didn’t treat our guests with so little respect (we always set the table for them) but generally speaking, speed eating was on our menu from Monday to Friday. Problem was, you never felt full even though you ate (and drank) more than enough.
So after some discussion, we nominated two nights midweek when everyone was home, and set about making those meals a real opportunity for us all to connect at the end of the day. Sitting down at a table for an extended period of time. With simple food that looks and tastes beautiful. It sounds quite easy but it is surprisingly difficult to slow down your mind and your body at the end of a day. The new routine was all going well. I mean we were all turning up and setting the table and ‘mindfully’ preparing meals together (which is code for trying not to argue and complain) and then last night, I nearly blew it. I suggested that perhaps, we’d ‘tweek’ the routine a little and start the meal in silence, taking time to consider the food, it’s origins, the taste, the texture… There was fair bit of sniggering (I’m pretty sure that was my husband). Then they were silent for all of, say 30 seconds, before the suppressed laughter escaped, accompanied by lots of exaggerated slow motion chewing, chanting and buddhist prayer poses. T1 (Teenager 1) and T2 said that even Mac (our dog) was rolling his eyes but I’ve seen him do that sometimes when he is overtired so that doesn’t count. But once the laughter had died down, we did manage to have a peaceful enough meal, full of funny little anecdotes about everyone’s day. Then the table was cleared and life resumed its normal pace but I live in hope that this ‘slow eating’ revolution might just take us to a better place…eventually.
Image: Dave Harrison