Cosmos in a Carrot: A Zen Guide to Eating Well by Carmen Yuen

If you’ve ever thought about eating a healthier diet, Cosmos in a Carrot: A Zen Guide to Eating Well is a good place to start. Written by Carmen Yuen, this book is a useful, easy-to-follow guide for changing the way you eat in order to create a healthier way of living. Yuen suggests a new philosophy for eating well and guides you step-by-step to understand and implement the necessary changes.

The first part of the book provides a comprehensive explanation of mindfulness —of being present— in order to “make clear decisions about how we want to eat.” This mindful eating is based on Buddhist teachings, though Yuen states that it is not necessary “to be Buddhist or think in Buddhist terms, to practice mindfulness.” The information and exercises in mindfulness training, though, are extremely helpful in understanding and implementing the suggestions throughout the book.

Whether a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan, Yuen’s suggests “our patterns of consumption should be inspired by” balance and moderation, as well as individual needs. For instance, soy may be healthy, but because of its high level of phytic acid, too much can block “the absorption of zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium.” Peanuts and other nuts may be highly nutritious, but for those with food allergies, “they could be deadly.” Yuen emphasizes that “our bodies and metabolisms are unique, and our diets must reflect our needs.” Following the Buddhist philosophy known as the Middle Way allows us to “eat in a way that is best for us.”

Part two of Cosmos in a Carrot is full of information — in plain language — that helps readers to understand nutrition, food labels, dietary guidelines, weight loss, and more. “When we’re familiar with the science of nutrition, we can make confident decisions about the way we eat.”

Yuen offers practical strategies and guidelines to healthy, mindful eating. There are sections about a balanced diet, unsaturated fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and salt intake.

“To be a mindful eater, we must look carefully at the food we take in.” To this end, she encourages a focus on eating foods that are organic, local and seasonal, natural and unprocessed, and, what she calls “super foods.” These are foods that are low in calories and filled with nutrients, such as dark leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, garlic, and berries. She also includes chapters about attentive approaches to weight loss and fad diets — including general information about the pros and cons of popular diets.

Yuen then advises how to put all of this into action by cultivating “a spirit of openness.” She offers basic, simple steps: “look…breathe, serve, chew, swallow…repeat.” This strategy alone can make a huge difference in the way we eat. By staying present in the act of eating we become acutely aware of what, and how much, we are eating. “When we eat slowly, we take in much more energy and nutrients from the small portions of food we eat.” Eating this way, she says, we will “satisfy our hunger and eat less” and “experience a natural joy and a new appreciation for food.”

Yuen acknowledges that changing habits and patterns occurs over time. The busyness of our lives can often cause us to forget to be mindful, but “no matter how busy we are, we can take a real break.” She includes two meditations that can help us to remember to be mindful. One, a tea meditation, encourages a way to be “fully engaged in a tea break.” The other is an orange meditation, an exercise for children — and adults — to creatively practice mindfulness. “In Buddhism, it is crucial to tailor practices, including eating and drinking, to a person’s level of understanding.”

Cosmos in a Carrot also discusses mindful cooking and grocery shopping, reminding us “that our food does not appear in a vacuum — a great deal of life and effort goes into it.” Yuen suggests allowing plenty of time to cook, as well as paying attention to ingredients, utensils, and especially “the recipients of the meals in mind.” She provides a comprehensive grocery list and meal ideas that can be particularly useful in making shopping and cooking a “more mindful experience.”

Finally, Yuen shares stories of four people who have put “mindfulness into practice in very different ways.” This section offers evidence of how people from different walks of life have implemented changes in their lives. Their individual stories illustrate the successes — and challenges — each has faced in becoming “mindful eaters.”

Becoming more mindful of who we are and what we do, including the way we eat, brings us to a “path of liberating insight,” and a healthier way of living. Cosmos in a Carrot: A Zen Guide to Eating Well is a gentle, non-judgmental step on this path.

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by Donna Baker Church
Carmen Yuen grew up in Vancouver, Canada. She studies Eastern philosophy and religions at Columbia University, studying with Robert Thurman and William Theodore de Bary. A former columnist for the Vancouver Province, she has written extensively on the subject of mindful eating, and delivers keynote presentations on the topics of healing, fitness, and nutrition.