THE BLOG
04/11/2014 11:50 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2014

Looking Deeply Into Your Plate

The situation is one many of us know all too well: sitting at our desks, taking bites between mouse clicks, paying more attention to what's on the screen than on our fork. Although our lunchtime dish may contain a mixture of lettuce, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, and avocado, we place so little focus on the food -- let alone these individual ingredients -- that referring to our meal with the general, nondescript label of "salad" is more accurate.

Eating can take on many different forms, depending on how much attention is paid and where that attention is placed. Through the practice of mindful eating, we strive to avoid these types of autopilot mealtime scenarios by reserving a time to focus only on our food. When we eat mindfully, we use all of our senses: noticing the color variety of lettuce greens, smelling the earthiness of the beets, tasting the acidity of the tomato, hearing the crunch of the cucumber, and feeling the creamy texture of the avocado. The dish is no longer a simple jumble of food, but rather a harmonious combination of distinct and unique elements.

Shifting our mealtime attention from distraction to food is the first step in the many possible layers of mindful eating. As you move through your meal, try looking even more deeply into each ingredient, thinking about all the elements that came together to bring this food to your plate. Reflect upon the chain of many individuals, including chefs (whether it's you or someone else) who hand selected each piece of food to create a cohesive dish, store clerks, truck drivers, and the farmers who carefully tended to the development of their product. Also consider the essential balance of natural elements, including sunshine, wind, rain, and fertile soil.

Of course, in our current food environment, carefully tracing the journey from farm to table might not always evoke the most idealistic picture, but rather awareness, so that we might be compelled to make better choices for our own health and for the health of our planet.

Let's take a look at the journey of beef for example. Through farm raising, factory processing, truck traveling, store stocking, and home or restaurant cooking, just one kilogram of beef emits 27.0 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Plant-based protein sources in comparison yield much lower greenhouse gas emissions, as one kilogram of lentils only emit 0.9 kilograms of CO2e from leaving the field to landing on your plate.

On a larger scale, latest assessments into the livestock sector's total contribution to climate change reveal that emissions from feed production and processing, output from cattle digestion and manure decomposition, as well as the processing and transportation of animal products account for an estimated 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. With staggering facts like these, in combination with research linking our own growing antibiotic resistance to promiscuous overuse of antibiotics within the meat production industry (in the U.S. alone, 80 percent of antibiotics are consumed via agriculture and aquaculture), the benefits of incorporating more plants into our diet become increasingly apparent.

As your meal comes to an end and you have truly experienced your food, contemplating its source and journey, it may come naturally to express your thanks for the availability and access to food that is so nourishing for your body and soul. When 870 million people go hungry every day, wondering where and when their next meal will come, we have the tools to essentially help roughly 12 percent of the world's population through mindful eating and consumption of a more sustainable plant-based diet.

Even an empty plate provides the opportunity for deep reflection and gratitude.

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