“Mindfulness” is one of those buzzwords that’s slapped onto everything from relaxation podcasts to adverts for yoga studios, all of which promise more peace in our frantic world. Apart from the advertisement campaigns, the idea of mindfulness—which originates in Buddhist meditation practices—is fairly simple: be here now. Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of the legendary Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, clarifies, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
When we apply mindfulness to our bodies, several questions arise: Are we being compassionate with the parts of our bodies that work hard every day to sustain us? Are we honoring our bodies’ needs, which are often separate from what our minds desire? In short, are we treating our bodies like temples? And then, because we don’t live in a vacuum, there’s the larger question: Are we living synergistically with the world around us?
There’s been an uptick in conversations in the nutrition world about mindfulness. Nutritionists who employ this approach shift focus from anything diet related onto more holistic practices like listening to your body when it’s full, eating when your body sends hunger signals and developing healthy eating environments (i.e., cultivating eating habits like sitting at a table for a meal, as opposed to multitasking while eating or grazing mindlessly throughout the day). Another essential aspect of mindful eating is considering where your food comes from.
Since we’re long separated from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and especially since the advent of supermarkets in the 1930s, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from our food. Thinking mindfully about where our food comes from involves considering who stocked the market shelves, what labor was involved in the food’s creation, what resources were necessary for its cultivation, and what suffering was involved in bringing us what’s on our plates.
Let’s take the hamburger, a staple in American cuisine. Market employees, delivery truck drivers and folks in food packaging plants all have a hand in bringing us the buns, toppings, condiments and the burgers themselves. Focusing on the beef alone—which is typically around 200 grams per serving—it takes anywhere from 2,500-3,000 liters of water (about 100 days’ worth of your showers) to irrigate the meat for one hamburger. In respect to the land, it takes 1.5 acres to produce 375 pounds of meat (whereas that same 1.5 acres could yield 37,000 pounds of plant-based food). And, what about the cow itself? Was it pasture-raised? Was it grass-fed and provided with supplemental grains during winter months? Was it treated humanely? Likely not, but I’ll leave it to films like Food, Inc. and Farm to Fridge to explain in more detail.
I spoke with a few people in the Denver-Boulder area who are passionate about the topic of mindfulness and food, albeit in different ways: Chrissy Dinardo of Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary, which, according to their site, “is a place of refuge for abused or neglected farmed animals”; Lenny Martinelli of Three Leaf Concepts, a management group that supports restaurants like Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, among others, which source their ingredients from Lafayette’s Three Leaf Farm; and Adam Schlegel of Chook Charcoal Chicken (and Snooze: an AM Eatery), which is a relatively new Australian-inspired chicken joint that prides itself on serving responsible food at an affordable price.
Chrissy Dinardo of Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary
Chrissy and I enthusiastically discussed animals over nut-based lattes at one of my favorite Denver vegetarian spots, the Corner Beet. She told me about Luvin Arms’ 40 acres that’s home to animals like the infamous chickens who were formerly neglected to such a degree that they resorted to cannibalism (uncharacteristic of chicken behavior), as they were living among frozen and therefore undrinkable water and decomposing chicken corpses; and other animals like pig siblings Brinkley, Garth, and Gilmour who were rescued as infants from Upstate NY, where they were living solitarily in cages in a back shed with no sunlight. Luvin Arms, which is 100% donor-funded, is open in warmer months for tours. But, don’t expect a petting zoo (whose animals are sent to slaughter after 6 months); instead, Chrissy explained, “we’re in their home and we respect their space, but many residents are friendly and will come up to you for love,” and the staff considers the animals as ambassadors.
Ambassadors for what? you may ask. Well, Chrissy and her co-workers steadfastly believe that once you visit and interact with, for instance, Tito the sweet son of a dairy cow or friendly Wendy, a chicken who follows Chrissy around as she creates social media content, and experience and connect with the personalities of the animals, a shift is bound to happen. Chrissy told me that she’s witnessed children turning to their parents, exclaiming, “I don’t want to eat bacon anymore.”
She explained how easy it is to reduce or cut out animals from our diets. There are alternatives for every animal product and an abundance of plant-based recipes. Luvin Arms even hosts cooking classes! Chrissy observed that a cruelty-free lifestyle can begin with incremental changes: “Some people start with Meatless Mondays, and others are plant-based until 4 p.m.” She remarked that giving up one animal-based product at a time may result in wider success, and she promises, “You’ll feel a difference!”
Let’s circle back to that definition of mindfulness: “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” A central part of mindfulness is being in the now and removing judgement. A deep-dive into full-fledged veganism isn’t necessarily for everyone, and it isn’t always possible to achieve overnight; like the canna-billboards say, “start low, go slow,” right?
Lenny Martinelli of Three Leaf Concepts
While Lenny recognizes the critical impact veganism has, he focuses more on vegetarian cuisine for the masses, because, “if you keep dairy and some cheeses, you’re able to bring it to a broader group.” Lenny—who got into the restaurant industry about 35 years ago when he started working at the Naropa Café, which he eventually took over—has focused on making vegetarian cuisine accessible for most of his career.
He emphasizes the sustainability factor because while Three Leaf Concepts’ restaurants are truly farm to table, he says he’s constantly learning and knows there are always more ways to optimize sustainability. “We need to bring farming back into our culture at a local level,” which can help in the global conflict regarding energy (i.e., the finiteness of energy from oil, gas and coal). When Lenny looks at a head of lettuce coming from California, he thinks, “There must be a way to grow that here”; but then he wonders if it’ll take more work and energy to produce it here instead of California.
He wants people to be more mindful of the bigger picture of food production, which ultimately also demands mindfulness regarding food waste. He stressed that we should respect all produce even those with blemishes on them. And, the subject always goes back to farming on a local level, because, “When you put all your energy into growing it, one little bruise isn’t an issue!”
Adam Schlegel of Chook Charcoal Chicken
Like Lenny, Adam emphasized that restaurants have a responsibility. Adam’s entire paradigm shifted when he toured a caged egg facility in the required gear: a biohazard suit. The inhumane conditions are cruel for the chickens and the employees. While Chook Charcoal Chicken specializes in, well, chicken, they boast a vegetable-forward menu whose overall practices are more sustainable (e.g., compostable takeaway containers and food that’s sourced more compassionately). Adam is fully invested in reforming legislation so that farmers can survive in this modern industrialized world. He’s dedicated to responsible, sustainable approaches—from the soil to the folks working at the co-op he sources from. He advised, “Know where your food comes from and support farmers and ranchers to build the soil rather than perpetuate the cycle.”
Applying mindfulness to what we eat has positive impacts not only on the microcosmic self—body and even mind—but, arguably more importantly, the environment. As we see the effects of climate change develop around us, our everyday choices truly do matter.