Food, Mindful Eating, and Social Justice

Originally Posted on The Savor Project on March 22, 2021 

Author: Dawnn McWatters, Psy.D.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a deep dive into the mindful eating literature. Although much is familiar terrain after nearly two decades of studying, practicing, and teaching mindful eating, I was delighted to recently discover Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community: Food for Social Justice, a collection of essays written primarily by community leaders of color. Below, you’ll find highlights from some of my favorite chapters, and if you are a teacher or practitioner of mindful eating, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of this book.

Throughout the book, personal stories about food, culture, and faith are interwoven with nutritional guidance, mindfulness and mindful eating instruction, and discussions about racial equity and food justice. A collection of prayers and blessings (from a variety of spiritual traditions) and delicious recipes are also included – integral parts of a truly “mindful meal.”

In a chapter written by Victor A. Ruiz, the author draws from his Puerto Rican culture as he highlights the importance of the family meal and explores the concept of sobremesas, the “unrushed exchanges, conversations and overall time spent with others during a meal, which will likely continue well past the food having been eaten. These sobremesas are much more than conversations; they shape values, traditions and people” (p.66). Adam J. Joseph, in Socioeconomic Eating, describes the trajectory of his own family’s eating habits and places it within a historical context of poverty and racial oppression.

In Urban Agriculture as a Community-Development Strategy, Michael S. Easterling invites readers to consider the power differential between these two sentences: “Can we change the systems that govern our lives? We can change the systems that govern our lives” (p.60). And later: “The better that we are able to perceive and understand the connections among ourselves as individuals, groups, institutions and enterprises, the more empowered we are to individually impact the whole community by appreciating the value of what we do in the moment” (p.61).

Njathi Kabui reflects upon Michael Pollan’s food journalism and takes us further into much-needed discussion about food sovereignty, examining how variables of power, wealth, and identity impact food insecurity and food inequity. She concludes: “We have to seriously ask ourselves how eating the way we do addresses inequities that have evolved over time. We are also a product of evolution and must take the long view of our health – who determines what we eat, how they acquired these powers and how that has affected how healthy we are. Only then can we really say that we are eating mindfully” (p.46).

A number of writers discuss how eating mindful meals at the community level deepens relationships, reduces social isolation, and connects people to something larger than themselves. In Food as Medicine, Jonathan, Sr., and Elizabeth Michaelle Rinehart share how as Native American (Anishinaabek) people, “…our ancestors were mindful when we harvested, prepared and ate food…” “Being mindful members of the Anishinaabek means recognizing that our traditional food has a story, a way it came to be” (p.83).

Finally, Kevin John Fong takes us through a brief journey of the Wu Hsing (the Five Elements) of water, wood, fire, earth and metal, which “provide a simple and common-sense framework for us to understand the human condition. Our bodies are, in fact, ecosystems that contain all aspects of the universe. If we can find ways to maintain a sense of harmony within these ecosystems, we can live and eat in more healthy, balanced and beneficial ways” (p.98).

To learn more:

Other TCME resources:

Food for Thought Winter 2020: Food Justice