Breakfast observations on the subway

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While in Manhattan a few days ago, during my morning commute, I was sitting next to a mother and daughter. The mom was feeding her daughter some grapes. She gave her the first one, and the girl automatically closed her eyes after putting the grape in her mouth. Her whole face was transformed with pleasure as she ate the grape. She took her time chewing, savoring. When her mom tried to give her another one, she signaled to her mouth, communicating that she wasn’t done yet. Her mom put it back inside the container and told her “Let me know when you’re done and want another one.” And so the little girl continued enjoying her grape. After swallowing it, she waited for a few moments and then asked for another one. Her mom waited each time for the girl to ask for more. There were still a few grapes left when the girl told her mom she didn’t want any more, and so the mother put the container away and told the girl she’d pack it in her lunchbox.

Some time later, a mother and son got on the subway. She was feeding him a banana. With the first bite, the boy behaved exactly like the girl I’d watched earlier, he closed his eyes and smiled as he chewed and savored the banana, chewing both with his mouth open and with his mouth closed. When his mouth was open, I could see he was moving the bite around with his tongue, having fun with it. Before he was done with that bite, his mom attempted to give him a second bite. At first he resisted, but the mom insisted and eventually he gave in. This pattern went on, until the banana was gone – quite quickly.

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Throughout these two events, observing these two kids take that first bite and savor it brought me joy. I was taken back to my childhood, playing with the food in my hands, exploring it, tasting it. After that initial observation, I was fascinated with the interaction between each mother and her child, one allowing her daughter to set the pace of her eating and enjoying her food, and the other one shoving the next bite of food in to complete the task of feeding. My fascination was not about mother-child interaction, though. It was not about how mothers’ feeding patterns affect the way we eat when we grow up either – not directly, anyway. It was about this interaction as a metaphor for my relationship to myself in terms of feeding and nurturing, not just physical hunger, but emotional and spiritual hunger.  I asked myself how often I act like each of these two mothers towards myself. How often am I in a rush to “feed” myself what I think should be good or enough? How often do I go about meals like one more task to be completed in a rush? How often do I allow myself to simply be enthralled in the joy of eating and savoring?

How is it that I have learned to behave in each of these ways towards myself? It is interesting to me that, although throughout my childhood my mom always acted like the first mom, allowing me to decide what, when, and how much I wanted to eat, I somehow began to hurry through meals. After that morning of observations of breakfast on the subway, I have wondered about what it is that drives me to eat in a hurry, to just shove food in my mouth even though I’m not done with the current bite. About how it is that this way of eating translates to other parts of my life, to being in a rush to get to the next thing without actually savoring the present experience.  About how this might contribute to that pervasive feeling of hunger, even if I’ve already eaten “plenty”.

How often do you honor your hunger and satiety? How often are you able to enjoy the joy of every bite, until it’s over? How is it that this came to be so for you? How does this translate to other parts of your life?

Lilia Graue