I led the third Bedouin Brunch in a series that I have been running at La Khaima restaurant in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal. I lead participants through a slow food brunch where they learn the art of conscious eating and mindfulness practices while exploring their relationship with food and life. This past Bedouin Brunch we explored “Njebe”, an authentic brunch eaten in West Africa. I spoke about the three S’s: simple foods, shared rituals and the slow eating philosophy of tribal communities.
Most people see food in terms of what is “good” or “bad” for their health. They may manage their diet according to what has the most nutrients and antioxidants while avoiding foods with high calorie or fat content. They are often oblivious to the holistic experience of food which includes the following aspects (and many more); the social aspect of food is about how your experience of eating changes in the company of others. Compare the experience of sitting around the table with friends for a potluck dinner, with a sandwich eaten alone in the car on the way to work. The emotional aspect of food is about the food and mood connection; the comfort associated with eating specific foods from childhood or the mysterious reason for a particular food craving. The spiritual aspect of food is about eating from the heart rather than for the heart. It is about incorporating rituals of gratitude or prayer into the dining experience.
In tribal communities meals are most often eaten from the same plate. While selfishness is socially shunned, sharing is socially rewarded. Shared dining is a chance to discuss community issues, tell stories and share advice from one generation to the next. It is also a form of food security during times of scarcity. Tribal people compare those who eat alone as lions who give nothing to others and therefore should expect nothing from other members of the group. A Nomad from Mauritania told me that the only time eating alone is acceptable is during illness. He reported feeling like something was missing whenever he ate alone, the “American” way. Sharing meals is as intimate as we can get with each other. When we share food, we share ourselves because it bonds us in a very unique way.
We can look at food from endless perspectives, but if we only see food through one particular lense, (such as seeing food in terms of fat or calories) we are essentially missing the bigger picture. It is like judging a great piece of art by the pigments in its paint. You don’t have to tell me that nutrition is a very important aspect of food, but it doesn’t accurately represent all that food is. Isn’t it more interesting to be reminded how deep and profound our relationship with food can be if we look beyond the surface?
Though I hope to cover more about the nomadic customs in upcoming posts, for now I will leave you with a story that illustrates the nomadic philosophy of life; a child nomad is on a camel and after riding for many hours, she turns to her father, and asks, “Are we there yet?” and the father nomad responds, “Honey, we are nomads… We’re never going to get there.”
What is the lesson here for us?
Our lives are not all about rushing to get somewhere, or ticking things off of our to-do lists. We often think of food and diet as a “destination” with a goal we have in mind of where we must be. We feel like failures if we don’t meet our target weight loss goal or if we don’t fit into our favourite pair of jeans by the New Year. Rarely do we stay in the present moment to accept and be grateful for where we are at right now. It seems easier to criticize ourselves than to be forgiving.
I encourage you wherever you are at in your own wellness goals to take a deep breath and slow down. Change takes time and being balanced in mind, body and spirit is always a process of ups and downs. Some days you might feel great about yourself and make lifestyle choices that nourish you, while other days you may feel unmotivated or uninspired. Instead of beating yourself up or sabotaging yourself on those challenging days, remember that you are on your journey like a nomad riding on the camel humps of life. Slow down long enough to enjoy the view, and trust that with patience you will get “there”, wherever that goal might be.