foreword (by Donald Altman)
The robotic behaviors and fixed mind-sets that drive daily eating habits and mealtime rituals are so deeply ingrained in our lives—personally, psychologically, socially, and culturally—that they often defy attempts to reshape or modify them. How many times, for example, have you heard that it’s better not to watch TV and eat at the same time because distraction causes you to eat mindlessly? But did your behavior change?
Here’s another example: Do you have certain foods that you tend to eat and others that you avoid? Do you remember the first time you really, really tasted something? How about that first grape or the first time you ate a pea? Mentioning those foods now probably brings up a well-established group of thoughts or memories about grapes or peas as something you either “like” or “dislike”—a taste you find “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” It’s normal that sometime after those first tastes of a new food during childhood, we develop sets of rules or concepts about whether or how to partake of various foods. But if you stopped really tasting most of your food a long time ago, how do you start tasting it again? How do you rediscover eating?
This is the distinct challenge of mindful eating: to break free from entrenched mindless habits and experience things as they really are, including the true sensation of hunger, awareness of flavors, and numerous memories and emotions that arise while you eat, and to be present with each unfolding moment—or morsel, as the case may be. The act of eating can serve as a sacred process that awakens you to all aspects of life and all of the connections that life engenders. Awakening—even a little bit—to the true nature of food, eating, and your own participation in the food chain is no small accomplishment.
As a longtime professional and author in the field of mindful eating, I rarely happen upon writings that so clearly illuminate what is at the core of all mindfulness practice: the awakening of possibility and the possibility of awakening. Pavel Somov has accomplished this in a way that is simultaneously surprising, powerful, fresh, and effective. In Reinventing the Meal, he presents a new paradigm for eating by serving up a diverse mindfulness menu consisting of appetizing anecdotes; a savory stew of fascinating scientific research, ancient wisdom, and down-to-earth mindful eating practices; and a delightful dessert of wry humor. In doing so, he stretches the limits of mindful eating, providing approaches that can help people break out of limiting styles of eating and antiquated ways of viewing themselves and the world. No matter how stuck you may feel, this book will metaphorically cleanse your palate, allowing you to start anew—with an empty plate and, more literally, a mind empty of preconceptions about food.
This book offers innovative methods for finding peace with eating, inviting self-reflection, and reconnecting with nature’s sacredness. In his quest to reinvent the meal, Pavel conducts a freewheeling exploration that includes such concepts as oryoki, a centuries-old Japanese eating meditation, and ahimsa, the Hindu concept of doing no harm, bringing a twenty-first-century slant to these ancient practices. And why not? We greatly need to both embrace and transcend old forms as a means of discovering new forms of expression.
Pavel doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of eating, and he refuses to be limited by current concepts. Rather, he takes an imaginative leap and breaks down old models of the meal to concoct a rich new recipe for making food matter again. He asks that instead of opening your mouth, you open your mind. Prepare to be challenged (I know I was!) as Reinventing the Meal skillfully leads you into deep self-inquiry and the essence of mindfulness. This is a provocative and courageous book that continually peels away layer after layer from the onion, refusing to settle for easy answers.
As this book attests, your next meal—and the next, and the next—offers an extraordinary opportunity. You are about to embark on a journey that affirms that the fundamental act of living and the light of awakening consciousness are inseparable. Before you venture on, know this: Open your mind, and you will never open your mouth in the same way again. And that can only be beneficial.
— Donald Altman
Author of One-Minute Mindfulness and Meal by Meal