The Mindful Kitchen: A Space for Joy and Nourishment

Kitchens are the heart of the home. The place where we gather, enjoy wholesome foods, savor the richness of everyday ingredients and experiences. Kitchens are also a wonderful site to practice mindfulness off of the meditation cushion. By building moments of mindfulness into activities you already do each day, like cooking, you can turn mindfulness into a daily habit. Plus, focusing your awareness on kitchen activities makes it easier to remember the little things—like where you put the missing Tupperware lid, or whether you’re out of milk.

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Explore your sense of taste

Taste is a direct sense: You can’t taste the vegetables in your garden from the porch. The veggie has to go into your mouth. Adults generally restrict tasting to the food they eat, but infants will put almost anything in their mouths. Taste is obviously an important tool of learning, one that we have to restrict for the child’s own safety.

The tongue can identify five basic taste groups: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory. Other tastes that we can identify include metallic, watery, and fatty. Because of an intimate connection between smell and taste, when we smell a pie cooking in the oven, we can almost taste it. The texture of food has more to do with the sense of touch on our lips and in our mouths than with our taste buds. So our experience of taste actually combines several senses.

Two Mindful Tasting Exercises

Wake up your taste buds with these two exercises

1. Slowly eat four very different foods, such as a nut, a noodle, a piece of lettuce, and a spoonful of ice cream. Close your eyes, if you like. Try to discriminate the textures as well as the taste. Can you separate the smell from the taste? Or do you have a unified experience of tasting something, combining these senses?

2. With an attitude of mindfulness and appreciation, go to a wine tasting, to an olive oil store, or to a tea or coffee shop. Sample and savor the wine, the olive oil, or the tea. Or host your own mindful tasting party.

Explore your sense of smell

Smell operates across space—you can smell coffee brewing across the room or the smoke from a fire miles away. To produce a smell, a substance must be volatile enough to spray microscopic particles into the air. Molecules travel through the air into our noses, where five million receptor cells reside. They trigger impulses to the brain’s olfactory bulb.

Smells warn us, telling us that something is burning or that our food has gone bad. Smells also delight us, bringing us the scents of each season: newly mown grass in the spring or mulled wine in winter.

Smell can also reach across time, connecting us with the past. As Helen Keller wrote, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” The nose transmits information about smells via the thalamus to regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, which may explain why odors are so evocative of former events.

A short mindful scent practice

Put a small amount of various loose teas in glasses or small bowls. Close your eyes and smell each sample. You can do this with other foods and drink. Try wine or single-malt scotch. Or some herbs and spices.

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