While I was sitting on the plane from Moscow to Verona the other day and having lunch on my own, I started to pay attention to my pace of eating as compared to that of the young woman sitting next to me, who was also traveling alone.
We had both ordered a chicken meatball with rice. I had already devoured most of my meal holding the food box in my hand. She has just started, having unwrapped her cutlery nicely and set up the tray table as if she was in a fine dining restaurant. Surprisingly, she seemed to enjoy the untasty flight meal.
As I noted how graceful and mindful she was, I started to wonder why I decided to order the meal and eat in such a rush. I paid no attention at all to what I was eating. My mind was elsewhere. I couldn’t deny it: I was hungry. However, I could have easily waited a couple of more hours. I recognized that I decided to eat because I was bored rather than hungry.
Eating food on the plane
Plane food is, on the whole, pretty unappetizing. And eating on the plane is a universally unpleasant—and often stomach-churning—experience. If you ask any health expert, they would suggest skipping the food altogether, and, instead, bringing something homemade like a soup or a salad. In most cases, I try to do that. However, it’s not always possible to prepare your own food before catching a flight. Sometimes you don’t have space in your hand luggage for an extra container. There are a number of reasons why you might be forced to choose between the chicken soup and the vegetarian meal. And when that happens, there’s no point in whining about it.
At that moment, Modern Mindfulness, the book by Rohan Gunatillake came to my mind. In the book, Mr. Gunatillake explains an easy approach to modern meditation, providing some useful exercises to practice wherever and whenever. Basically, every moment is the perfect time for a mindfulness practice.
On an attempt to practice mindfulness on-the-go, I had taken the book with me during my work trips in the previous month. Positive results didn’t take long to show up with more presence and improved ability to handle stressful situations.
Was my mind encouraging me to be mindful here?
So I thought:
“Are there ways to turn my solo eating on the plane into a pleasant experience? Could I overcome the overall condition of the food without judgment? Could I handle the commonly known staleness? Or the lack of taste, the obnoxious texture or the quite familiar—and rather uncomfortable—lack of eating space?”
A Mindful Eating Exercise
I stopped and put the fork down. I was motivated to transform such an unpleasant experience into an enjoyable one. So I did an exercise. An observation of the meal from the outside-in, from the packaging to the ingredients contained in the food.
I started by observing the packaging, a squared and shiny package made of cardboard. When I looked at the graphic, written in Cyrillic characters, I slowly recognized what was written there (my Russian language skills are limited to reading and speaking a few words). The cities of Berlin, Genoa, London, and Vienna emerged from the apparently obscure language.
I continued the exploration to focus on the texture of the packaging. It was glossy and conveyed a different message about the food contained in the box. My mind started to ponder about the incongruence between the outside and the inside. I tried to stop it. When you do this exercise for first times, it’s hard to control your mind but it becomes easier with a bit of practice.
Then, I shifted to the square boxes and the snacks contained in the packaged lunch. I reflected on my tactile experience, the heat of the aluminum foiled vessel containing the chicken meatball and the rice and the weight of the salt and pepper paper bags.
Ready to eat
When I took the first bite of food, I thought about the people involved with the logistics. I visualized the faces of the cooks who prepared it, the people who wrapped it, and those who took it onboard. I observed the flight assistants who served it, who are the passengers’ only contact with the food itself (Mr. Gunatillake’s book inspires this part).
By the end of this exercise, the girl sitting next to me was done eating. I, on the other hand, not only had elevated my in-flight eating experience into a fully sensorial, enjoyable experience (I know, I know, despite the poor quality ingredients) but I also managed to fight the boredom that often affects me on flights.
The exercise I’ve described above is an excellent practice for any person who is traveling solo by plane or any other mean of transport. It could also work very well for those of us who, alas, can only find dull food in their company’s canteen as well as for people who can’t leave their workstation for lunch.
If you’re interested to practice mindful eating, consider writing down two or three positive aspects of your meal. If you would like to make this into a practice, consider saving your writings for a month to see the many ways you’re nurturing your body.
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