Meals at Camp Grounded were another well thought out part of the weekend. Everything we ate (with maybe the exception of campfire s’mores) was local or organic with the nutrients needed to keep us going. Most of the time we ate family-style in a classic summer camp cafeteria (minus the fear of awful waffles) with sing-a-longs to conclude each sitting. However, there was one meal that stood out from the rest because it was such a novel experience.
Picture a table on a grass field long enough to seat 250 people facing one another. Everyone is dressed in white and tea light candles held in large pieces of wood adorn the tabletops. At this point, feel free to make some jokes about joining a cult. All you can hear are birds conversing, a soft breeze moving through the trees and melodic piano music. As you take your seat, you notice a card on the table explaining this is a silent meal with the intention to make it more mindful. It encourages you to fully taste and savor what your senses interpret. It asks you to consider all the things that needed to happen to make this meal possible. The creation of the universe, a habitable planet that supports growth, the transport of that food and the final preparation.
Food is served and you commence eating. You look at your neighbor, but the eye contact does not have a motive. It’s natural. You hear utensils clinking as people cut their food. You figure you may as give this a shot. No other meal you’ve ever had is quite like this and the only thing you can compare it to is a silent family dinner where no one is talking to you because you did something really wrong. Only it’s not awkward and you don’t feel bad. You enjoy sitting there and not jamming food down your throat to move on to the next activity, multitask with a smartphone/television, or engage in the mundane small talk that ordinarily happens when you are sitting next to strangers.
You chew more than usual and let the textures and flavors rest on your tongue. The chicken is delightfully crisp on the outside and moist inside. The greens produce a peppery sensation for your tastebuds if you give them the chance. The risotto is perfect comfort food to line your stomach and leave you feeling satisfied. You realize people are right when they say the food tastes better when you take the time to appreciate it. Eventually the silence is broken and you speak to your neighbors. You might not have any photos, but these memories are not likely to fade anytime soon.
This meal changed me. I had already been trying to give more of my meals more focus because most of the time I was trying to do something else to entertain myself or look busy in front of other people. It may not have been my intention, but by doing so I was saying that the food wasn’t enough. In a way, that was disrespectful. In a way, I was missing out on so much by not giving it the attention it deserved.
Since Camp Grounded, I’ve had many more meals where I just ate and did nothing else. Even in good company and conversation, I remind myself to check in with my senses. The urge to do other things is still there and I’m not perfect, but I am much improved. Eating a meal doesn’t take very long, so why rush through it? I hope this is one habit I can continue to develop. I needed that silent meal to get me there.