Holly Hughes on how shopping for groceries can in fact be a mindful experience, if we simply focus more on what we buy and what our bodies actually need …
We are all attuned to the damage plastic and unnecessary packaging is wreaking on our oceans, atmosphere, and wildlife. However, aside from the environmental imperative, there is a personal benefit to going waste-free. In a world of online shopping and single-use swaddling that has resulted in a disconnect between what we want and what we buy, massaging a bell pepper can offer our exhausted, post-work selves a happiness boost and a mindful reconnection to both nature and our bodies.
The bumpy rind of a voluptuous lemon, the velvet fur of an over-ripe peach; the ability to touch and consequently feel is a primal interaction with the world around us that has long been integral to our emotional wellbeing. Touch is the first sense to develop in an infant, and yet it is the sense we, as grown humans, are fastest to lose connection with. As our interactions become increasingly diluted by screens, Russian doll packaging, Instagram filters, and online shopping, the joy of touch and the bonding connection it once proffered is becoming increasingly lost. With it, we’re losing not only the ability to feel but the ability to connect – with each other, with the natural world and, perhaps most tragically, with ourselves. Unpackaged food is the antidote to this, reclaiming an act that has become zombified, impersonal, and robotic and making it an interactive, responsive, and connective experience.
How many of us shudder at the rub of cotton wool or tumble into childhood nostalgia the moment we feel sand between our toes? Touch is evocative, it is emotive, and its removal from our everyday habits is the removal of an integral joy and vital childhood pleasure of experimenting, discovering, and exploring. The more tactile we can be, the more in tune with our emotions, our environment, and our needs we will ultimately be. A fruit and veg aisle uninhibited by wrapping is a playground in which we can relearn the joy of feeling, and the visceral need to connect in a tactile way with the world around us.
Aside from the physical and emotional joy of getting handsy, there is an evolutionary perk: the euphoria of the harvesting high. Surprisingly, it was not satisfying hunger that motivated hunter-gatherers to forage for their supper but rather the rush of dopamine harvesting food released. The act of picking, plucking and pulling food from the ground became evolutionarily encouraged by a serotonin hit – a chemical release that is still hardwired into our DNA today. While hectic schedules and less-than-ideal living arrangements aren’t conducive to side hustles as diligent vegetable plotters, unpackaged produce offers a modern day alternative. Affordable German supermarkets might have replaced the fields and forests of our hunter-gatherer ancestors but a harvesting high can still be found in plucking a potato from kaleidoscopic shelves, if not from the ground.
Supermarkets are tsunamis of overstimulation. A weekly grocery shop invariably culminates in a sense of overwhelming helplessness in the face of pushy promotions, endless choice, and labyrinthine aisles that seem designed to hide only the most essential household items (where are the eggs, I ask you?). Packaging, with bombastic designs, the confusing subterfuge of opaque layers, and incomprehensible ingredients lists, only add to the chaos. The result is a dithering in the artificial cold, as hunger turns to hanger and we are confronted with products we didn’t know we wanted yet somehow now feel compelled to buy.
Being able to not only see but touch what we’re buying is a lifebuoy in this plethora of choice, propaganda, and promotion, gifting us a feeling of control and assertiveness in an environment where we too often feel at the mercy of corporate deities. The feeling of overwhelming hysteria as we wander the lonely aisles in search of something we cannot find is eradicated with the simplicity of a package-free display of products we don’t need a PhD in nutritional science to understand. This creates a mindful experience in which we focus more on what we buy and what our bodies actually need, resulting in buying conscientious quality over hysteric quantity.
The knock-on effects of this mindful approach to shopping on our physical and mental health are self-explanatory. The benefits of eating more fresh produce and reducing our reliance on processed foods for our overall wellbeing are overwhelmingly endorsed by experts the world over. On top of this, the environmental impact of a mindful approach to packaging is profound, and indeed, a central tenet of #MindOurselves.
However, I don’t think these are necessarily the reasons a New Zealand supermarket saw a 300% increase in fruit and veg sales when they banned packaging. The answer, I think, is the lost art of connection and the simple joy of touch a package-free experience promotes. It is a return to the essential pleasure of embracing our senses, and a rekindling of our childhood curiosity. So, delight in the squeeze of an (Irish-grown) beef tomato and relish the grainy bumps of an arthritic carrot – it might just save the world.
Holly Hughes is a writer, avid horoscope reader, optimist, more often cynic, and lover of all things pastry and potato-related. You can find her musings at www.earnestandethereal.com or follow her at @earnest_ethereal for self-indulgence and occasional profundity.
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