It’s 5.30 pm, the sun is about to set, and I can hear my mother scrambling away in the kitchen trying to get food ready in time to break fast. It’s the third day of Ramadan and all I can think about is how badly I need an almond milk latte to stop my head from pounding. I can smell each individual spice, and seasoning being added to the food, and my mouth is watering at the thought of sinking my teeth into a home-cooked meal.
I’m watching the sky slowly turn from a pale orange to streaks of blue and grey as the sun starts to leave the horizon. It’s finally time to break our fast.
I put on the kettle and prepare my brewed coffee. Within seconds of taking my first sip, I’m in a state of euphoria.
With my caffeine fix sorted, I start to chow down on mum’s Lebanese Chicken Fateh so fast that I almost forget to swallow. Amid the frantic feed it dawns on me that I’ve taken this meal for granted in a rush to fill my belly. I’ve taken food for granted for a long time.
As I take the next bite, I start to feel different. I start to focus on the flavours of the food, each mouthful different from the other. I start to chew a little slower and imagine the effort that’s been put into producing the many grains of rice on my plate. Even though I’ve eaten rice countless times, I’ve never once thought about this.
I start to feel an overwhelming gratitude for the food in front of me and begin reflecting: I’d never felt the true pain of hunger like those starving in Yemen, or other parts of the world.
As a busy journalist there are quotidian food rituals I hold dear. I have three lattes to get me through the day – they’re usually made with a specific brand of almond milk, extra hot, with an extra-shot. How silly it all seems to be so picky about things when there are others who have nothing.
Mindfulness allowed me to become more aware
I first heard about the term ‘mindfulness’ at a university lecture many years ago. A guest speaker spoke about practising mindfulness during the exam period. He talked to the students about using the mindfulness techniques to observer your thoughts to become more present in all aspects of life. I realised I never understood what he meant until that very moment at the dinner table.
Mindful eating is a very similar technique that helps you gain control over bad eating habits. It works by observing each meal, similar to keeping a food-journal.
Fasting helped me be environmentally conscious
When I think back to how much food I’ve wasted over the years, it makes me feel uneasy. I think about how many almost-finished toasties and half-eaten apples I’ve thrown in the bin, and I’m reminded of those who have nothing.
This Ramadan hasn't just taught me the importance of mindfulness, but also the value of appreciating food and being conscious with waste.
As Ramadan comes to an end, I’ve become more aware of what I eat and I’ve learned to take stock of the work that goes into every morsel of food I consume.
I’ve learned to give more and eat less, and I understand the importance of preserving our environment in the best ways possible by avoiding useless plastic packaging.
Despite the many difficulties of the fast, the lessons I’ve learned during the month are ones I’ll take with me throughout the year.
Zena Chamas is a freelance writer and documentary film maker. You can follow Zena on Twitter at @chamas_zena.