If you want a lesson in fleeting pleasures and the art of mindfulness, look no further than a bowl of summer fruit. You might think fall, with its rich harvest, is the season of food, but I beg to differ. Fall is the season of turning food into meals, putting up preserves, seasoning and salting and cooking, sure. But as far as the pleasures of fresh food go, I put my money on the moment when you pop a sun-warmed cherry tomato off the vine and into your mouth, or slice into a crisp, cool cucumber delivered from the farm to the corner market that morning, or wash the two pounds of blackberries you harvested at the pick-your-own farm (and don’t forget the half-pound or so you ate while picking).
Summer fruits and vegetables are the great, immediate, delicious—and fleeting—luxury of this season. It would be wonderful to bite into a fresh-off-the-tree juicy peach when February drags on. But seasonal food gives you a chance to savor the present moment, knowing full well it will end.
If there’s anything to learn from summer’s bounty, it’s to be mindful of the pleasures available to you right now. After all, you can’t save a bag of plump Rainier cherries for when you have more time, or when you’re less stressed, or when you feel like you’ve earned it, or whatever thoughts are keeping you from delight. The cherries will just mold.
This isn’t just about healthy eating (though it’s that, too), but about being in tune with what’s right in front of you. Because when you have a delicious, ripe plum in your hands, do you worry that it might go bad someday? No! You eat it right then and there. That’s what it means to be present.
The same is true for your life. Put off or neglect the sweet moments of your days, and you’ll lose them for good. But if you embrace present-moment enjoyment, you give yourself a better chance of feeling more nourished, more resilient, and more likely to notice and appreciated joys to come.
Here are four tips to help you savor summer’s bounty.
1. Tune in to your appetite.
When you find yourself reaching for food, ask yourself—are you actually hungry or just bored? Upset? Stressed? What are you hungry for? Do you really want what you’re about to eat? How will it make you feel? When you do eat something, pay attention to the sensation of eating it as well as how your body feels after eating. When you tune in to appetite, hunger, and the sensation of food, you become more fully aware of what is happening in you and around you with each breath. (Read more on mindful eating.)
2. Resist the bag.
As you tune in to your appetite, you’ll want to feed it well. That means when in doubt, opt for the thing that came out of the ground, rather than off an assembly line. You’re building a positive feedback loop here: Pay attention to your hunger, fill your belly with delicious food, and then look forward to feeling hungry again, because you’ll get to enjoy more good food. Fresh fruits and vegetables taste better, they just do—especially when you can reset your palette from the hyper-sugary, oversalted snacks to which we’ve become accustomed.
If you’re not sure where to find fresh fruits and veggies in your area, check out EatWellGuide.org, a free directory for farms, restaurants, markets, and grocery stores that sell fresh foods.
3. Let food rule.
Try to have at least one meal a day without distractions. (This isn’t easy if you have young children in the house, so you might shoot for a yummy snack without distractions). Turn off your devices, put down your book, stop whatever project you’ve got going and give your food your full attention. And really experience your food. What does it look like, smell like, taste like? What does it feel like to chew and swallow? Do any emotions or images come to mind?
4. Relish it!
You certainly don’t have to be overly regimented about this. It’s about really loving what you eat. Let the plum juice run down your chin. Shell sugar snap peas into your mouth. Nibble the broccoli while it’s still on the stem just to see what it tastes like. Eat watermelon right down to the rind.
Every blueberry or summer squash presents you with the opportunity to be present. All you have to do is bite.