As of the beginning of the fall semester, Montclair State University is holding a weekly “Mindful Eating” program hosted by celebrity chef Jehangir Mehta. The program, held outside of Freeman Hall on Wednesdays or Thursdays, combines meditation and sustainability with culinary creations.
Owner and executive chef of multiple successful NYC restaurants and author of a cookbook, Chef Mehta believes in the importance of innovative and sustainable practices in dining. Reducing food waste and promoting awareness of ingredients is extremely important to his mission and the “Mindful Eating” Program. Students, laying on yoga mats and exposed to fresh air, are led through a number of breathing exercises and stretches to help them destress and clear their minds before sampling organic, healthy dishes and mixes that strengthen the immune system and have numerous health benefits. The program is organized by Eats by Gourmet Dining Services and is part of an effort by Montclair State to provide students with positive resources for their mental health.
During one class, the chef passed around a medicinal blend of herbs, spices and fruit for participants to try. While some of the students loved the concoction’s sharp taste, it elicited reactions of disgust from others. This disparity, Chef Mehta noted, was a part of the beauty of cooking. Each dish can be precisely tailored to fit an individual’s preferences, reshaping a recipe into an idea. The universality of preparing dishes that are good for both the body and the mind is a principle that Chef Mehta has always utilized. The dishes in this class are made with ingredients that have been used for thousands of years, redefining the way we eat by returning to our human roots.
Jeremiah Medina-Rivera, a freshman recording arts and production major, admired the chef’s use of accessible ingredients in the program.
“[There are] ways that you can eat that make you peaceful,” Medina-Rivera said. “[I liked] the way he blended a bunch of [ingredients], and they’re not even expensive or hard to get.”
The chef’s progressive restaurants and creative recipes exemplify mindfulness by crafting recipes with underutilized produce and seafood, cracking down on food waste while also giving the consumer a healthy and tasty dish that makes them rethink the way they cook at home.
“Sustainability is important with everything we do in our lives. Food waste is [a huge problem]… when you hear about how many people are deprived just in our own country. It’s [about] trying to stretch life, and stretch a product.”
Chef Mehta’s positive outlook and advice on mindfulness were comforting to the students in the class. He discussed negative stressors and reframing one’s worldview to detract from the power we give to the things that irritate us.
“It’s [about] seeing the same object in a different format,” Mehta said. “Today, one thing that I mentioned to a student, when an alarm of a car was going off when we were trying to meditate [was to] try and make that white noise. Concentrate on something completely different, what makes you happy. Suddenly that same noise is just nothing.”
Despite the program’s low attendance due to a lack of substantial promotion, students participating are very satisfied. Zoë Ponzio, an undeclared sophomore, felt “relieved and thankful” after it ended.
“He was talking about filling your soul and your mind, and that [is important] for anybody, not just college students, and it’s so great that they have [this program] on campus as an option for us,” Ponzio said.
Chef Mehta’s passion is evident through the content of the program and his approachability. He encourages students who are having a tough time to “Flag me down! We can do a five-minute type of exercise in the dining room. We can make it happen! If you feel like today is not the way you thought it would be, I’m here to hear you.”
Students can sign up for the “Mindful Eating” program through the link in the bio on EATS by Gourmet Dining Service’s Instagram page. If the program is not presently full, students are encouraged to join in at any point.