Savoring flavors and bringing a loving sensibility to food and eating are part of a sensory-regard consciousness that has traveled through the centuries via world religions, cultural traditions, and Eastern healing systems. Indeed, the sensory and spiritual elements of eating go together like twins. While such an orientation toward food sharply contrasts with the Western model of nutritional science and its eating-by-number relationship to food and eating (counting calories and carbs, figuring fat grams, etc.), the intimate relationship between food, love and spirituality has been an integral aspect of world religions for millennia.
For instance, the Bhagavad Gita espouses infusing food with love, teaching that prana, or the consciousness with which food is prepared, is infused into food and in turn “digested” when the food is consumed. Judaism’s blessings said over bread, wine, and food bring us into a loving relationship with food and God by reminding us that food is holy. Yogic nutrition guidelines by swami Sivananada of Rishikesh espouse bringing a loving consciousness to food and meals as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Perhaps our spiritual ancestors discovered intuitively what science is now verifying: there is indeed a spiritual ingredient in the best experiences of food and eating.
What is it like to eat with sensory delight and loving regard? If you’ve ever looked forward to a special meal—perhaps prepared by a close friend or at a choice restaurant—and you delighted in each forkful of your favorite food—then it’s likely you ate while experiencing the color, aroma, flavor, texture , presentation, and portion size of your food. This is sensory regard. And if you have ever eaten while reflecting on the mystery of food’s ability to sustain life; if you have ever connected to the way rain, sunshine, wind, air, and soil work together to create the foods that nourish you; and if you have ever filled yourself with loving regard for the origins of the food before you, then you are eating with sensory delight and loving regard. Your relationship is filled with wonder and delight of eating, and it includes savoring the meaning and mystery of life inherent in your meals. In other words, you are nourishing your senses and flavoring food with love.
One of my memorable moments of eating with sensory regard occurred in a beautiful Thai restaurant. My husband and I ordered a salad with which we weren’t familiar. Called miang khim, the dish that arrived at our table wasn’t the familiar American salad of mixed vegetables. Instead, we were presented with a platter that held six small bowls filled with finely chopped and colorful ingredients: lime, peanuts, red onion, red pepper, ginger, and toasted coconut. In the center were a bunch of fresh spinach leaves and a bowl of a very thick and sticky sweet-and-sour paste.
The presentation was enchanting, but because it was unfamiliar, we asked our waitress how to proceed. Patiently, she showed us how to take a spinach leaf, spread a little paste on it, and sprinkle a tiny portion from each bowl over the paste. The she created a small food-filled tube by rolling up the leaf. With each bite, an implosion of flavors released, so much so that we instinctively kept our attention and our anticipation focused on the fantastic flavors and tantalizing tastes that each new bit of miang kham released.
With each bite, I thought of the “six flavors of food” that Eastern healing systems— India’s Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and Tibetan medicine—have espoused for centuries to signal optimal eating and complete nutrition. For complete nutrition, a meal needs to contain all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. In order to discern if all tastes are present, you have to focus your attention on the flavors inside your mouth as you chew. Our miang kham dining experience was an exceptional example of how fresh food prepared with care and savored by the diner can fill the senses and satisfy the soul.
Especially in these stressful times, take time to experience your food through all your senses—taste (flavor), smell (aroma), sight (presentation), sound (of the surroundings), and touch (kinesthetics)—and to regard the mystery of life inherent in food and in yourself. Dining with your senses (sensory regard) and at the same time eating with deep appreciation for the food before you (spiritual connection) are powerful ways to nourish and nurture yourself and in turn, feel fulfilled by the dining experience. When you do this, you are likely to eat less and enjoy food more.
Recipe for Miang Kham (Leaf-Wrapped Salad)
20 large spinach leaves or green leaves of choice
½ cup shredded coconut, toasted and chopped
1 large lime, cut into ¼-inch pieces
¼ cup scallions, cut into ¼-inch pieces
10 small chilies, cut into ¼-inch pieces
¼ cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped
1 cup thick honeycomb honey in a tub or jar of liquid honey
Arrange each of the chopped salad ingredients in small, separate bowls. Put the honey sauce in a separate bowl.
Preparation to Eat
- Take one spinach leaf and spread a teaspoon of the honey on the leaf.
- Put a pinch of each chopped salad ingredient on the sauce.
- Roll the leaf, then fold the ends inward to make a packet. Eat in one bite.
DEBORAH KESTEN, M.P.H. is an international nutritional researcher, award-winning author, and medical and health writer with a specialty in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease. Her most recent book is the award-winning Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity. Visit www.IntegrativeEating.com.