Awareness of nature
“Tim, look, it’s the Montezuma Swamp!” I uttered these words in delight as my father drove my boyfriend and I down the New York State Thruway last November. The 45th US president had just been elected, so you might think I’d lowered my standards of beauty as anything is Moonlight in Vermont in comparison. But, no. As I now live my life between London and Copenhagen, I hadn’t laid eyes on the wetlands so familiar in my childhood for nearly a decade. I was giddy.
My formative years were spent in a town where I passed the farms my food came from on the way to school in the morning. Add to that, I had a grandfather who believed himself to be a descendent of the Native Mohawk tribe. He collected arrowheads that were still occasionally found in back gardens; evidence of the people who had first inhabited these lands and believed themselves to be a part of nature, not a taker from it.
By osmosis, I grew up understanding that my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness was deeply dependent upon nature. If I cared for myself, I best care for nature. It was obvious to me.
Then I went to college in Boston.
I spent my first year in a dormitory that was modeled after a female prison. Whether I wanted to or not, I HAD to be close to my roommate. She was a curious creature. Kind and fun-loving, she hailed from a town close to the City. Her New York and my New York were very different places. To earn spending money, she got a job bartending at a club on Landsdowne Street, where, as class of ‘97 lore has it, Dan Aykroyd once gave her $100 tip.
My university existence was decidedly less glamorous. I interpreted the story of Paul Revere for school children along the Freedom Trail and joined the Outdoors Club because we got to climb New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in the snow. My roommate and I accepted that we preferred different experiences. But, why that was hit me when she explained that she’d never laid eyes on a cow.
This might sound trivial, but looking back it was an ah-ha moment for me. I had always identified as being an environmentalist and never understood why others didn’t. It hit me that I knew first hand that milk came from cows which grazed on pastureland, tended to by heroic farmers and if they were laying down (the cows, not the farmers), it was going to rain soon. How on earth is someone supposed to be an environmentalist when they literally have no concept of being connected to nature. Case in point, my roommate, and her bovine ignorance.
Concept of food chain
In school, most of us are introduced to the concept of the food chain. I’m sure you can conjure up a picture of a pyramid with a human at the apex and lots of other species feeding off of subsequently ‘lower’ life forms. Food chains do exist – but they are only one part of the story. Widen your lens and you’ll discover that there are several food chains, that all connect to one another in a vast network of food webs. What happens in our little food chain is dependent upon the entire ecosystem. There’s no hierarchy in the ecosystem. Every microbiome plays an imperative part.
I’ll be honest, food porn drives me nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I love the art of beautifully plated food as much as the next Instagram account holder. But, appreciation of the composition of the finished product, like the food chain, is only part of the story. What I’m obsessed with is HOW to plug in to the magical collaboration of people, plants, animals, wind, water, soil and the tiniest of micro-organisms that make every bite possible.
Nature through food as a practice
Why? Relating to nature is the ability to go on a hike and feel a part of the woods, not just admire the beauty of the forest. Researchers have shown that as we increase our relation to nature, so too do we enhance our cognitive abilities, reduce our stress, improve our sense of spiritual wellbeing and…wait for it…act in more eco-friendly ways.
Like meditation or yoga, relating to nature through food is a practice. It’s not just about tucking into a great plate of food and saying thanks. That’s important. But, holistically developing new rituals in the kitchen, supermarket and dinner table is the only way to generate a new way of seeing your relationship to food and creating new eating habits. Given that Chatham House says we won’t meet our Paris Agreement objectives unless we disrupt our diets as well as revolutionise the energy industry – now is the time for change.
Heather Thomas, Founder, The Mindful Kitchen
Heather spent 13 years working in London’s creative industries. She worked at Tate and the Royal Academy of Arts before becoming Development and Communications Director for YouthNet, which revolutionized youth services for digital natives. She went to get her MBA at Copenhagen Business School with the vision of creating a sustainable start up. An environmentalist since childhood, she wanted to translate passion to mission. After graduation, she launched a pop up eatery in Copenhagen. In 2016 she brought the Mindful Kitchen home to London. She’s a consultant for Sustain, the UK’s alliance for better food and farming, and coaches community groups at The Eden Project. In March 2017, she’ll be training with Al Gore and his Climate Reality Leadership Project.