Zen and the Art of Eating

Zen and the Art of Eating: Meaningful Ingredients For Dining Brought Together At Enso Village

Once upon a time, there was a cherished ritual of American life known as the family meal. But in these busy days, we tend to treat mealtimes as multitasking opportunities. We get our morning coffee a drive-through; lunch is brought to our work desks from a delivery service; our dinner comes home in a box to be consumed on the couch.

Even how we see these spaces in which we eat has evolved. Our car is our breakfast nook, our office desk is the breakroom, our couch is the kitchen table. The recent pandemic significantly altered our dining habits, due to precautions against coming together, unmasked and in large groups, simply to share the joys and benefits of eating and drinking with others.

Yet each of us has the power to choose differently, if we wish. Because at Enso Village, none of this has to be “the way it is.” There can be a different way.

As America’s first Zen-inspired life plan community, we have designed our communal eating venues, our farm, and our teaching kitchen at Enso Village to encourage residents to become even more connected to, and present, with our food and with one another. We hope our residents will come to regard meals as both a source of both sustenance and social opportunity. If residents so choose, they may become more thoughtful stewards who are conscious of where their food originates, as well as how it can be more sustainably grown, harvested and prepared. They may also opt to be more mindful in their own personal ways while dining, whether that’s being fully present in the moment with those they’re dining with, or simply savoring the tastes and flavors. It is genuinely a personal choice in how – or if – we elect to practice mindful eating.

While this may seem like a revolutionary approach within senior living, it reflects our Zen roots and the Quaker values of our parent organization, The Kendal Corporation. It also thoughtfully complements our Healdsburg location in Sonoma County, a unique region that offers both remarkable biodiversity and a notable 10-month growing season. “Think of the Zen practice, being aware of the earth and environment, and understanding Kendal’s Quaker ethos of social responsibility,” says Benjamin Butler, Kendal’s vice president of culinary services & operations. “Then, think of northern California, where sustainability, the farm-to-table and thoughtful growth movements come from. It all come together at Enso Village.”


There is a Zen practice of mindful eating that involves being more present and aware when we eat our food. We start by defining the difference between eating and eating mindfully – one is mindlessly gulping down a handful of grapes; the other is thoughtfully, attentively chewing while noticing the flavors, textures, smells and tastes with all our senses. There’s also a difference between eating as simply a task to be completed and eating as a human ritual. Whether we take a moment of solitude to savor the experience or participate in a meal with others, the act of eating can enhance our sense of connection and our shared humanity.

The Zen practice of taking care of all details of our everyday life includes a deep appreciation for the source and preparation of the food, and the many hands that have contributed to usher our food from seed to fork to compost back to the earth. There’s an emphasis on the awareness that all things are connected, interdependent, and ultimately, one continuous circle. 

These philosophies are ones all of us can integrate in the following ways if we choose:

  • Reflecting on how the meal came before you and giving thanks for the food. Eating with gratitude reminds us of nature’s wonder and the hard work which culminated in the creation of the dish you’re about to enjoy.
  • Using all five senses when we eat; paying attention to all the ingredients, flavors, textures and sounds; appreciating the appearance of the food, the aromas, even the crunch of a carrot or the juiciness of a garden-fresh tomato. This helps you to be more present as you eat and can enhance your appreciation of the food.
  • Planning your meals thoughtfully, making lists before shopping so that you avoid impulse shopping and use what you’ve purchased without waste. You may also consider participating as a volunteer in the Enso Village farm/garden – a rewarding endeavor which can sustain you and others.

These practices result in greater gratitude and appreciation, and often translate into a sense of increased deliciousness. The act of gardening organically and with care for the earth, and sharing that harvest with others, produces more delicious meals that energize and heal both body and earth.

“Everyone should have equal access to good food,” says Wendy Johnson, a founder of the Organic Farm and Garden Program at Green Gulch Farm in Marin County and author of the book, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate.  “We must share the harvest with the wider world.” Wendy lived and trained at Green Gulch for 25 years before moving to her current home next door to the farm. She’s also a garden mentor to the Edible Schoolyard program; she and husband Peter have continued to participate with the Green Gulch farmers to donate food during the pandemic for hungry citizens via community networks in the area, including the Berkeley Food Network and The Culture Conservancy.


Each of Kendal’s 13 communities across eight states is designed to meet different needs and tastes. Yet they all share a commitment to lifelong learning, community service and wellness, empowering older adults to achieve their full potential. That commitment is carried through to its approach to dining.

“Our mission at Kendal for Enso Village is to create something that’s healthy — both for the nutrition of residents but also for our environment, and for those who work the farms and process the foods we use,” Butler says. “We understand the food supply system and we’re part of the movement: reducing chemical use, supporting nutrition, building a system that is sustainable and offers fair values.”

Each Kendal community works with multiple vendors in their region to secure fresh, local ingredients whenever possible, and focus on using only fresh, never-frozen meats, fresh breads and produce. 

Communities with gardens and resident garden clubs contribute produce that will then be featured on their dining menus. Monthly talks with a dietitian and resident food committees ensure residents have a voice in the overall quality, consistency and nutritional benefit.

Something also unique to Kendal: Staff always dines with residents, often sitting together at meals. “It’s the Kendal Way for the staff to sit and talk with residents,” Butler says. “Our vision for Enso Village is similar to Greens Restaurant, with lots of large tables where you can dine together with different people at every meal.”


As a Kendal community, Enso Village embraces a thoughtful combination of tradition and innovation that has become the Kendal hallmark. Yet the community will also stay true to its Zen roots and deep connection with Healdsburg and greater Sonoma County.

Sustainability is integral to all that we do, which will perhaps be most visible in our approach to dining. We know that industrial agricultural systems are one of the greatest contributors to climate change. We will strive to meet the highest level of sustainability with the smallest possible ecological impact while delivering an unparalleled dining experience focusing on high-quality, farm-to-table cuisine.

Along with occasional contributions from our resident garden, we will have a strong reliance on local produce vendors to procure the freshest local produce possible. Whenever possible, we’re committed to sourcing food that is organic, and choosing foods that have been grown through regenerative agriculture practices – which are farming principles focused on soil health and water management while being mindful of fertilizer and pesticide use.

  • In addition to emphasizing locally sourced foods, we will focus on items and ingredients that are seasonal and organic as often as possible.
  • Our chef-prepared meals will feature daily specials and a variety of vegetarian options; our vegetarian bistro, inspired by Greens Restaurant, will be a place to sit for a simple meal and also offer delicious and healthy grab-and-go options.
  • Our dining experience will align with that of Sonoma County’s remarkable restaurants in terms of featuring locally sourced and fair-trade foods, Michelin-star chefs, local wines, area-trained bakers and warm dining atmosphere where all are welcome, and both hearts and bodies are nourished.

Because of Enso Village’s Healdsburg location, residents will be just two miles from some of the finest dining available anywhere in the country. Sonoma County, renowned for its fine wines and restaurants, will certainly become an extension of our community’s own fine dining, including the Charlie Palmer restaurant planned for the hotel across the street from Enso Village.

Ultimately, what will truly make dining at Enso Village so unique will be the people who will soon call this community home.

“The act of eating a meal is a shared experience that brings residents together,” Butler says. “It’s an opportunity every day to form new friendships and foster camaraderie. And the residents here will play a unique and vital role in shaping what it means to be a community.”

Perhaps you’d like to deepen your appreciation of – and connect to – food and mindful eating.

Or you may wish to understand what it truly means to choose a Zen-inspired senior living community. Our staff is here to answer your questions and help you discover more about life at Enso Village. Simply share your contact information and we’ll reach out to you.