In the Garden (Carrots)In 2009, I read a passage by philosopher Gregory Sams that nearly made me jump out of my chair:

“There are a staggering number of edible vegetable combinations of light, air, water, and earth that are growing on this planet. The same base ingredients that produce a carrot can also make a grain of rice or a hot ginger root. The widely different vibrations and life-energies in food are real, and become you if they have not been processed out by the time it reaches your plate. Good food enables and even guides you to live your life much better on many levels—beyond improving simply physical health” (2009, 208–209).

For years I have been of the same opinion: that processed food is dead, that the life has been processed out of it, and that it therefore has nothing to offer or teach your bodymind.

It’s mind-expanding to see reality through an information-processing lens. But what is information? Information is pattern, and information processing is pattern recognition. Processed food is utterly deconstructed; it has no pattern left. It is sterilized of its history and carries no memory or life secret. Case in point: an apple is actually an embryo. It’s a vegetative womb pregnant with life. Apple puree, however, is a totally different story.  As I see it, even a glass of carrot juice is processed food—even if freshly pressed. Carrot juice is no longer a carrot. Its fibrous structure has been lost in the rpms of a high-powered juicer. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against juicing—not at all. I love carrot juice, and if you see a tan tone to my skin, it’s probably attributable to carrots, not sun.

The point I’m making here is philosophical, not nutritional. Whether nutritionally sound or not, processed food is devoid of patterns of information and history. Even if it feeds the body, it doesn’t feed the mind. While nutritionally sound processed food is, of course, a better choice than many packaged foods, when I eat it I feel that I miss out on the resistance that unprocessed food puts up. When I take in this nutritional mush, the boa constrictor of my peristalsis has nothing to wrestle with. I yearn for the internal massage of the food as it works its way through me—something that’s lost in the flash flood of nutrient flow from processed foods.

The living tube of my body watches all of the food that passes through it, which is perhaps akin to a reality TV show about life outside the body. If the food I eat has had all of its story processed out, it’s just pabulum—mush that teaches my body nothing about the dog-eats-dog jungle of life outside its walls. A slice of white bread teaches my body that the outside world is a washed-out sky with an occasional cloud drifting unmemorably past. The roughage of sprouted-grain bread, on the other hand, more accurately conveys the grind of daily life in the outside world. Maybe this is nothing but arbitrary poetics. Maybe nutritional value is, from the body’s point of view, the only informational value—but maybe not. In any case, there’s no need to tie these loose ends into a tidy knot of facts. All I’m suggesting is that every now and then you welcome an encounter with an actual life-form.

If you’re going to have a carrot, have a carrot stick, not carrot juice. If you are going to eat a bird, have an actual chicken leg, not an industrially regurgitated chicken finger. (Just so you know, chickens don’t actually have fingers.) And if you’re determined to have a glass of orange juice, then at least do the squeezing yourself. Meet what you destroy face-to-face and learn from the encounter. You wouldn’t take love in pill form, would you? Of course not. You’d want all the convoluted drama of it: the chase, the challenge, the intimacy of bonding. You’d want the process of love. It’s the same with food: our bodies want to partake in the digestive process of eating life. Love the unmistakable three-dimensional intimacy of eating an orange, rather than settling for a pale imitation in juice form.


Adapted from Reinventing the Meal: How Mindfulness Can Help You Slow Down, Savor the Moment and Reconnect With the Ritual of Eating (Somov, September 2012)

Visit Mindful Eating Tracker  to see what other mindful eaters are working on.

Creative Commons License photo credit: DoimSioraf