Real Food

Pay attention to what you eat.

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Mindfulness is a potent buzzword that gets some people excited and makes others roll their eyes. Or go to sleep. Lately though, scientific studies have shown that mindfulness meditation does actually affect the structure of the brain in positive ways. As they say — those people — it’s exercise for your brain.

Hopefully you haven’t stopped reading because I said “buzzword.”

For the doubters out there, mindfulness is the secret foundation supporting a lot of other things people who love food are interested in: where food comes from, how it got the table and how good ecological practices enhance health in the global sense.

If you’re the type of person who ponders these things and shops at farmers markets and natural grocery stores, you’re practicing mindfulness without realizing it. You’re paying attention to what’s in front of you and altering your behavior in positive ways because of it.

Of course, it can and does get more specific than that. Chrysalis Institute, a nonprofit that explores spirituality in all of its forms, wants to help you connect with your food in a series of talks and classes gearing up for next year.

Don’t be scared off by the word spirituality.

“When I came to Chrysalis,” executive director Rachel Wood says, “one thing I liked about it is that everything is grounded in research.”

The program she’s designing is a way to show people how food fits into the cultural big picture while explaining and helping participants understand how it specifically affects them.

Kristen Kimball, author of “The Dirty Life,” is the most intriguing speaker on the schedule. Kimball left New York City and a successful career as a writer, and with husband, Mark, began Essex Farm in Essex, New York, in 2003. Their daunting goal was to produce enough food to feed a community. Today, around 200 people pick up pastured meat, eggs, flour and vegetables weekly. The Kimballs use draft horses to work the farm and want it to become fossil-fuel-free by 2016.

You’ll also find out more about how our culture views food and eating, plus practice a little yoga, from teacher Keya Williams. Psychotherapist Sasha Loring will elaborate on those broader ideas and help participants examine their own unhealthy eating habits and how they can be changed through mindfulness.

And mindfulness, as it relates to food, also means thinking about the ingredient itself. To that end, Ellwood Thompson's Local Market will hold a three-part tasting series that will focus on a single, specific vegetable: greens, tomatoes and root vegetables. You’ll try each one to discover what makes it taste the way it does without other types of food obscuring your focus. And this is a lot like what chefs do already. The same ingredients from different places can have subtle differences and the way it's grown can affect a plant a great deal. How will you know if you don’t try it first?

Think. Feel. Taste. A little mindfulness will only make your food better.

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