Sunday, February 3, 2008

I finally learned to have a peaceful and solitary lunch

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel February 3, 2008)

My husband and son are well trained. Come lunchtime, they know better than to interrupt my dining with idle chatter, business talk or rhetorical questions.

When I sit down at the table -- a clean, pretty table free of distracting clutter -- I want my focus to be on eating and eating alone.

A slow, quiet, mindful meal is my objective.

After decades spent eating on the run, having meals cut short by phone calls, work demands or a child's needs, I find myself insisting on calmness at suppertime. I've finally reached a stage in life where meals have earned their own time slot. The kids -- no longer babies -- are independent enough to fix their own food.

Work no longer dictates that I be in the car during lunchtime, and the ever-present tugs of family life have subsided sufficiently to permit the occasional breather. A lovingly prepared repast has regained its status as an event in and of itself.

This period was a long time coming and now that it has arrived, I'm fiercely protective of its presence.

These days, lunch is about experiencing the flavor, texture and taste of each morsel being devoured. It is a chance to push the pause button on life and savor the moment.

I didn't arrive at this Zen-like state of food awareness without effort. Several layers of life-in-the-new-millennium had to be shed before the first "in-the-moment" meal could be consumed.

And in the beginning, there was the phone. . . . It had to be turned off.

But turning off a phone is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. The very thought of doing so invokes a slew of "what ifs."

What if someone important is calling? What if it's a business call or a question that needs to be answered right away? What if it's a customer who will go elsewhere if they get a message instead of a real person? What if it's an emergency -- one of the children in trouble or an elderly parent who needs help?

Well, it could be any of those things. But the reality is, they all can wait. After all, a meal -- even a slowly savored, calmly eaten one -- takes an unexpectedly short time. How short? From the time I sit down at the table, to the time I wash my dishes in the sink, less than a half hour has usually passed. Surely, whoever is calling can wait 20 to 30 minutes.

Once the phone is on silent mode, a welcome freedom settles in. Just knowing that no calls will disrupt the dining experience encourages relaxation. And a meal eaten without stress or anxiety is a meal that will be better digested.

Author and certified nutritional consultant Lori Lipinski agrees. In her online article "Seven Tips to Enhance Digestion . . . And Get the Most Out of the Foods You Eat," Lipinski said, "Eating when under stress or in a hurry inhibits the production of hydrochloric acid and enzymes that are necessary for proper digestion."

Lipinski may be right, but it doesn't take an expert to explain the obvious.

Food eaten slowly when you can concentrate on it is less likely to produce that all too familiar feeling of internal discomfort. I know it does for me. Plus, a peacefully consumed meal makes me feel grounded and more in the moment -- qualities too often lacking in our on-the-go, must-get-everything-done-right-now world.

So, when midday comes around and my stomach is sending out hunger signals, I look forward to my lunchtime routine. I go into the kitchen, clear away any leftover morning mess and set about preparing my food. It's a good feeling to know ahead of time what I'm going to eat and the fashion in which it is going to be consumed. I eat variations on the same basic meal each day -- a bun-less garden burger with melted cheese and avocado, sweet potato, tabbouleh and half a baked potato accompanied by a glass of water. A cloth napkin and place mat add to the pleasant atmosphere.

With my husband and son trained to respect my need for peace and quiet, all that's left to do is enjoy my meal. There'll be plenty of time for talk and phone calls during the rest of the day. But for now, for at least a few precious minutes -- I can disconnect with the rest of the world and concentrate on the task at hand. Let the feast begin!

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