Compassionate Holiday Consumption

By Cissy Brady-Rogers

I first published this piece on my personal blog a year ago. In light of the fears, anxieties and insecurities evoked by the recent election, I’m more aware than ever of my need to consider those whom Jesus called “the least” among us. The question I pose at the end of this article, “How can I choose to let go of having it all so that all may have?” is more pressing on my heart today than it was a year ago. 

At Alive and Well Women, we envision a community brought together by shared values of compassion, collaboration and caring for others, as we also take care of ourselves—commitments that transcend religion, ethnicity or socio-economic status. Compassionate holiday consumption is my take on how I can love my neighbor and myself during the holiday madness!


The extra fat living on my belly these days reminds me that in my sphere of reality over consumption is a way of life. While a large percentage of people on planet earth struggle for access to enough, I have too much.

I want to give thanks for the abundance.

I want to be grateful that my refrigerator and pantry are full, that I can drive my car a few miles and purchase mass amounts of consumables or dine on gourmet food at a restaurant where the portions are so large I take some home for the dog.

But this Thanksgiving morning I’m aware that the abundance of my Thanksgiving table, along with the month of consumption ahead, has come to reflect the too muchness of life in the USA. We have so much available that unless we are highly conscious about our choices we will end up consuming too much and storing that excess in our bodies’ remarkably efficient energy storage systems.

  • I want to be grateful for my body’s amazing capacity to survive potential famine by storing energy as fat.
  • I want to be grateful that I am so aware of my body that I notice even subtle shifts in my body mass composition.
  • I want to be grateful that I can swim a mile with ease, feel the power and strength of my body as I glide through the water.
  • I want to be grateful that I no longer regulate my energy intake and output based on external guidelines or fears of weight gain.
  • I want to be grateful that when I eat our Thanksgiving feast this evening I will savor the love of family and the delicious meal set before us.

But my mind is on those who don’t have enough. On the hungry and the homeless. And, on how ironic it is that many of the homeless and needy I’ve met when volunteering in local soup kitchens are also carrying extra fat on their bellies!

Current research on nutrition and fat storage indicate that the number of calories we eat as well as the quality and types of food we consume contribute to how our bodies metabolize and store energy. Much of the food served to those showing up at soup kitchens are high glycemic carbohydrates (breads, pastas, rice, potatoes, sugar) that increase the likelihood of weight gain in many of us.

I’m not sure what I can do about that today. But expanding my view of reality to consider those who don’t have a home to gather in, a table of their own around which to dine, or loved ones to share it with, gives me perspective that helps me love and enjoy living in my body, just as I am. Because ultimately my life is not measured by my level of fitness or my body mass composition, but by the degree to which I live in loving relationship with myself, my family and friends, my colleagues and acquaintances, my neighbors, as well as the “strangers” around the world who are my brothers and sisters here on planet earth.

For me it comes back to gratitude and living in the tension of celebrating the goodness of life that has come to me as I remember that while all is well in my world, much of the rest of the world suffers.

Today I will seek to savor rather than consume.

Today I will seek to listen to my body not just for me, but as a reminder that over consumption of resources doesn’t just impact me and my health, but contributes in a small way to the unequal distribution of resources that leaves many homeless and hungry on this day of Thanksgiving.

It isn’t about guilt for having more than enough. Rather it’s about loving myself and my neighbor enough to pay attention to my consumption so that I don’t carry around more than I really need either in fat stores on my body or otherwise.

This holiday season I am going to focus on compassionate consumption. 

Compassion recognizes suffering with kindness and non-judgement and comes alongside with intention to alleviate that suffering to the degree that I can.

Eating just enough is one way to do that today. And if I choose to eat more than enough, not judging myself for breaking my intention but kindly stopping when I recognize I’ve passed the point of satiation.

As we head into the holiday consumption madness begins tomorrow, may we consider what compassionate consumption might look like in our lives.What presents, decorations and other stuff do we really need? What is enough? What is too much? And how can we take our excess and use it to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others?

How can we choose to let go of our possibility of having it all so that all may have?

 

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