How Many Meals?


How many meals have we eaten in our lives? Too many to remember and if you come from a background with enough money to put food on the table with any solid regularity, that’s probably three meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. And maybe some snacks too. I mean because who doesn’t love snacks?

So, let’s do some math here now, okay? Because I want us to really be able to see and feel the full force and weight of all those meals. See them laid out on tables from here to however far it goes. I’ll channel my inner Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Neil deGrasse Tyson by Patrick Queen for Columbia Magazine
Neil deGrasse Tyson by Patrick Queen for Columbia Magazine

Okay then so how old are you? Let’s say, you’re 30 or 24. Okay, you’re 24. Maybe we can leave out that first year of your life, because maybe your mama breast fed you and while those count as meals…well, you can see the problem. Unless of course, we count the meals your mom ate so she could breastfeed you successfully. But for now, how about we just start counting from age two. Now you’re 24. We got 23 years of meals, three a day, plus snacks. Each year is 365 days (more or less). That’s a whopping total of 365 times 23…which is 8,395 days times three (for the meals,) which is 25,185 meals. Yes.

And so okay, but how many of those could you possibly remember? Or more to the point, how old were you when you began to remember stuff. Let’s say four. That knocks off three more years. But twenty years of meals is still 21, 900 plates of food. Can you see it?

So, how many tables would it take? Like more than I can imagine. But let’s try. Let’s say a place setting at a table takes up about two feet. So if you had a bunch of eight foot tables, like the kind you see at roadside picnic areas or like those long family size tables at Ikea, the ones that expand for when company comes over… you could fit four meals down the length of the table.


Now, at the equator the earth is 24,902 miles. If you laid eight-foot dining room tables end to end to hold all those meals, one time around would take 3,112.75 tables. Never mind about the problem of .75 of a table. I mean, who owns that thing? But, that’s only 12, 451 of our meals. The tables full of all the meals you’ve ever eaten by the tender age of twenty, would actually circle the globe nearly three times. See it. And if you live to be 100, our tables would circle the globe approximately 15 TIMES!

Confession time, we all know who we are. We scrape a lot of food into the garbage. Or we wrap it up in foil or put it into eco-friendly reusable containers only to have it die, forgotten, in the back of the refrigerator. According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion (€32.5 billion), is thrown away each year. (Jones, 2004 cited in Lundqvist et al., 2008).”

But let’s go global now shall we and see how that stacks up. Again, according to UNEP, about one third of ALL food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. All food everywhere! I read this and was like, OMG, are you kidding, because I really hope so. But this is the United Nations, and the UN has their science DOWN! The idea that food could be accidentally lost or wasted on a global scale makes me think of that line in The Dark Knight, when Lucius Fox tells Simon Lau that Mr. Wayne didn’t want him to think he was deliberately wasting his time, “only accidentally wasting it.” Because to lose something, food or otherwise, implies by virtue of the word, “LOSE,” that whoops! something happened we couldn’t control. But how do you lose one third of the world’s food? Where does it go? This is George Carlin’s bit on Losing Stuff on an epic and devastating scale. Do you remember?


“I hate to loose anything. I don’t like to loose anything cause… Where is it? See that’s basically the part that bothers me the most. I’m a practical guy… Where is it? “I just had it!” You know that feeling? “It was just here!” Where is it? “I don’t know.” it’s gone. “That’s true.” It’s lost. “That’s right”. Where could it be? “Could be anywhere”. Not here. “No, we know that”. Maybe it’ll come back. “Maybe but not yet.” (George Carlin, “Losing Things,1986)

Not yet. Not ever. There’s the rub. The loss of food is not something we can just get back. The people who may starve because of those food losses, we’ll never get them back either. Can you imagine how many people suffer when we lose a third of all the world’s food?

Also, this, “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).” And, also this; “ In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.”

But I rant. This could go on forever. Breathe. Breathe. Pause. Okay. Sorry.

So, what can we do? We can wake up. What can we wake up from? The trance, as Tara Brach puts it, of our separateness, from nature, from each other, from the delusional story that what each and every one of us does, (in this case with our food) doesn’t matter. It does! What you and I do, what our families, our towns, states, our government does, it all matters.

So, how to begin? All that thinking about cities and states and the government sets my head to spinning!  Let’s keep it simple then. Let’s not even get into any of this meditation stuff in a formal sense. We can hold off, for now.

For this minute, let’s not even reach beyond the space defined by our own outstretched arms. I mean, because like, that space right there – it’s big enough isn’t it? Think of all the things those arms do anyway. God. It’s humbling really. Small enough to attend to and big enough make a difference. Right? Here we go then. A light and gentle touch. Simple awareness. Present for whatever this holiday season is going lay on us. Bring it Granny and Aunt Martha and Uncle Bob and the ghosts of the past and all of you bringing someone new home for the first time. God!

So massive understatement, this time of year can get a little whack-a-doo. In the midst of our celebrations of abundance, the feeling may be stronger than ever that what we want is somewhere down the road and that whatever might “get us” is right around the corner. So we’re caught in this kind of crazy push me pull you thing of running forward and cringing back. Not entirely our fault, our brains have actually been wired by evolution to do this. The whole approach avoidance thing, flight, fight or freeze. We’re cavemen still at heart (or mind). Our higher functioning brain parts are actually way newer and still clearly a work in process.

We may also experience an abundance of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are not our favorite things. Cousins practically hip-checking us aside at the table because our elbows are taking up too much room, for one. Or when the dog eats some of, well okay, most of the cake and throws it up all over the BRAND NEW WHITE RUG! So, who can blame us if in the midst of all that, we over-eat, over-drink, over-do just about everything. We might even forget where we are and not even be fully aware of what we’re eating. Let’s just say, it can all be a bit of a blur. Wine not withstanding. Maybe we’re just hiding from something.

Okay, so confession time—just let me see a show of hands, how many of you have eaten so much at Thanksgiving dinner, that you very quickly came down with a massive case of over-stuffed tummy bloat, an over-all malaise, that “I can’t believe I ate all that shit and now I’m gonna die,” feeling which leaves you wishing that vomitoriums were real and close at hand (see John McNally’s, Book of Ralph for clarification on vomitoriums.) Come on. We’ve all been there. Ha! I thought so. Well, me too. Let’s start with dropping any judgment we might have around any of that. Just forget it. What good’s it doing anyone? Answer? NONE.

But wait, what if we could really be present? Savor every bit. Fully relax into being where we are, and whom we’re with, and yes, know what we’re eating and maybe even, where it came from. Imagine. And just in case you’re concerned, this will not now turn into a, “you should be vegetarian or vegan,” tirade. And if we’re going to get fussy and particular, think of the suffering involved in the business of growing food, specifically the worm death. I mean, fields do get plowed whether by hand or machine and worms do die in the process. Unless you’re the young Dalai Lama and can request that the earth in your garden be hand sifted. I’ve no idea if this story is apocryphal or true and I guess it doesn’t matter. I saw it in the film Seven Years in Tibet. The point is nothing is without its cost or consequences. And there’s plenty of other kinds of trouble involved growing anything, even something as basic and good for you as broccoli. (Which, as an aside, if you have kids who won’t eat it because it’s green, just throw some cheese on and voila!) Everyone’s got to sort through this whole omnivore, vegetarian etc. thing, on their own, depending on the particulars of their situation. No absolutes, okay? No pendants puh-lease! Okay?

So…let’s start with an idea. Let’s Pause before eating. (Capital P makes it official.) Test it out for yourself. If you feel like it get back to us and share your experience.  Give it a test drive before your Thanksgiving meal (or not,) whatever suits you. Here it is. If your practice in your family or family of choice is to have some kind of grace before eating, this would be a natural place to try the Pause.

Sit down at the table. With or without a grace, enjoy a few deep breaths. Breathing in the full aromas and sights and sounds around you. Breathing out, letting go of any tension. Notice what’s going on in your body, heart, mind. Whatever is there, see if you can relax and have a sense of letting go before plunging into the meal. Maybe savor the feelings of anticipation. Feel what’s happening in your mouth.

Now, let’s try experiencing at least the beginning of our meal as a mind body event, bringing the fullness of our awareness to the right here and now. Let’s see if we can approach it with an open natural feeling of presence. This will help us experience not only the food more directly but allow us to more peacefully be with whatever comes up with who ever is there with us. We can try to recognize what’s going on and allow with kindness and love, for what ever that all is, to just be, without changing a thing! This way we give thanks to all that is, as it is.

Now, let’s get back to the actual experience of eating. I know you were wondering. Can you notice the feelings in your body waiting. Salivating? How you can almost, almost, taste the food? Now, as you move to grab your fork or spoon or chopsticks or whatever, can you bring your awareness to that? Feel the movement in the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand. Watch your arm, your hand as you carry the fork from table to plate to food and mouth. What mechanics! It’s a miracle of engineering!

Smell the aromas rising. Look at it. What colors, textures are there?

Sense the food going into the mouth. Lips opening. Tongue positioning itself. What side of the mouth does the food go to automatically? Put that fork back on the plate and just allow the hands to come to rest rather than already digging up the next mouthful.

Before you chew, wait! Just feel it. What’s the texture, temperature? What are the many flavors? See? It’s like taking a vacation right there in your mouth.

When you just can’t take it any more, chew, swallow, savor. Go ahead. You can close your eyes if you want to. Feel it all.

Now imagine. Perhaps a few less tables circling the globe. Less food tossed down the disposal or into the trash. If every household did this, the ripples would be endless. There’d be enough goddamn food to feed the whole flipping planet, and perhaps a little more gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Permittere Pacem (Allow the peace)