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Volume 17 Issue 6
March/April 2012

Transformation Through Food

The Power of Fermentation

The Lack of Vitamin K2 in Our Diet: What Went Wrong?

See Clearly Without Glasses, Contacts, or Surgery

How Self-Sufficient Are You?

Pilates – Leading the Way Towards Functional Movement

Organize Your Clutter, Transform Your Life

Healing Through the Archangels


Transformation Through Food
by Patti Gera
Sandra Brandt

Food is more than just, well, an obvious way of feeding ourselves. It is actually a means through which we experience life itself.

In Doris Dorrie’s documentary film How To Cook Your Life, Edward Espe Brown, Zen practitioner, chef, and cookbook author, pronounces in his characteristically mischievous manner, “We’re cooking the food, but in terms of practice, the food is cooking us.” Through a series of beautifully filmed images of food and food preparation, many of them in teaching sessions with retreat participants, he examines the relationship between food and patience, food and anger, food and “cutting through confusion,” and other choice issues.

For Saint Francis of Assisi, the kitchen was the heart of the temple. All food was treated with utmost reverence. In an established Buddhist monastery, the “tenzo” (cook), is required to have a well-developed spiritual practice. This makes a lot of sense when we begin to see how interacting with food mirrors so much of life itself.

We have become accustomed to the “cult of speed” in our lives, which has a serious impact on our food practices. Convenient frozen supermarket meals, cookbooks and recipes that promise fabulous meals in mere minutes, multitasking while we eat, fast food restaurants—all these are ways we seek to accomplish feeding ourselves and others with less cost in the precious commodity of time.

In the 1920s, Emily Post, mistress of American etiquette, decreed that a dinner party should last no more than two and a half hours. This seems like incredible amount of leisure time to us nowadays. It has been estimated that the average meal at McDonalds takes eleven minutes, which seems normal to many.

Jen Allbritton, nutritionist and mother of young children, gives a wealth of practical tips on how to bring the sacred aspect into mundane everyday family meals. In her article, “Cooking Traditionally With Little Time To Cook,” she quotes anthropologist Robin Fox who feels that “Food is too easy to come by these days, giving a lesser sense of significance to a once sacred event … Fast food has killed this. We have reduced eating to sitting alone and shovelling it in. There is no ceremony in it.” Jen highly recommends that at the very least, it’s a good idea to make any scheduling adjustments necessary to serve a “soul-nurturing family meal” at least five times a week, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The eventual benefits can far outweigh the advantages of extra curricular activities or extra income earned to which we so often give higher priority.

Food is also grown in haste. Growth enhancers, fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, genetic modification, and other scientific developments are geared to increasing yields and decreasing the time it takes to produce food, often at the cost of tastiness, variety, and nutrient levels. Manufactured food reheated in microwave ovens completes the picture of efficiency. Vitamin pills are expected to compensate for the nutritional losses, while digestive remedies cover up for some of the physical difficulties caused by the constant assault of processed food on our bodies.

The Slow Food Movement, which was launched in Rome in 1986 by Carlo Petrini, seeks to offer an alternative to the increasing haste and hurry of modern food and eating habits. The movement is described as standing for “fresh, local, seasonal produce; recipes handed down through the generations; sustainable farming; artisanal production; leisurely dining with family and friends; as well as eco-gastronomy, meaning that food choices are connected with protecting the environment.” “Cooking gives you a little oasis of slowness. It re-grounds you and that helps you avoid the superficiality of urban life,” says a Slow Food enthusiast in New York.

Growing food, grocery shopping, cooking, serving, and eating can, if we choose, all be carried out with reverence and at a slowed down pace. There is no prescribed way of incorporating the slow food idea into our lives; rather there are countless ways to put it into practice. It can begin as a gradual process that may eventually become a way of life.

In her popular book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano praises the pure pleasures of consuming food without guilt or haste. According to her, French women eat smaller portions of more things while American women eat larger portions of fewer things. The French woman’s apparent secret is taking the time to properly savour each delicious morsel.

On the other hand, one can also occasionally fast from an overabundance of variety by eating only one simple food at a mealtime or even in a whole day (which also gives the digestive system a welcome rest).

Another part of the path of transformation is to consciously practice the awareness of all five senses in the presence of food. Our sense of sight, smell, touch, and hearing can all be profoundly affected, as well as our taste buds.

It is often helpful to keep the kitchen work and eating spaces as clean and uncluttered as possible both when using them and when not, and also to try to reduce noise clutter as well when preparing food and eating. Calming music, or even silence if the opportunity arises, can have a positive effect on the heart, mind, and digestion.

Practice paying more attention to the quality of food ingredients. Be open to shopping and buying from small independent producers and businesses and to possibly buying artisanal food products online.

Develop a flair for creating new and unique dishes based on leftovers. You may be amazed at what you can come up with if you give your creative side some added time and leeway. Plus the reduction in waste that results may help to develop a more reverent attitude toward the gift of food.

Try making at least one “slow” dish per week, meaning something that takes a longer time to cook or to develop its flavour and texture. Examples include crock pot cooking, growing sprouts in your kitchen, making yeast bread, yogurt, or sauerkraut. Allow yourself to observe and appreciate the transformation with curiosity while it’s happening.

Here is one “slow food” project you might enjoy trying out:.

Cultured Carrots With Ginger
(adapted from Nourishing Traditions Cookbook)

Step 1: Make or buy some plain yogurt. Yogurt takes 4-12 hours to culture so making it at home can be a food transformation experience in itself. If you buy the yogurt, make sure it contains live bacterial cultures and no chemical stabilizers or thickeners in the ingredient list.

Step 2: Separate some chilled yogurt into curds and whey. This is very easy to do by dumping it into a colander lined with a clean cloth that allows the liquid to drain through to a dish below. After half an hour or so, you should see a clear yellowish liquid, the whey, beginning to accumulate in the draining dish. After several hours the yogurt will thicken into a sour cream-like texture, and within a few days, it will become even thicker, like cream cheese, and can be used as such. For the longer draining periods, allow it happen in the refrigerator.

Step 3: Grate 2 pounds of well-scrubbed or peeled carrots. This can be done in a food processor, but if you have the stamina and patience to grate them by hand, so much the better. In a large bowl, mix the grated carrots with 1 tablespoon of freshly grated raw ginger, 1 tablespoon of unrefined sea salt, and 4 tablespoons of whey (from the drained yogurt). (The salt is necessary for preserving the mixture during the culturing process.)

Step 4: Pound the mixture with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for 10 minutes or so, which will slightly soften the carrots and begin to release their juices. Then scoop the pounded mixture into a very clean, one-litre jar, packing it down as much as possible, so there is some visible liquid at the top. There should be at least one inch of empty space at the top of the jar.

Step 4: Cover the jar tightly and let it sit at room temperature for 3 days, to culture. Lactic acid will develop, which transforms the mixture into a tangy “pickled” product. Lacto-fermented foods such as this are highly beneficial nutritionally as well as a digestive aid; they are a wonderful condiment with rich or spicy foods. Store in the refrigerator; keeps for at least a month or two.

DVD: How To Cook Your Life by Doris Dorrie, 2007;
In Praise of Slow, Carl Honore, 2004, Orion Books;
Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon, 1999, New Trends Publishing;
French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano, 2004, Simon & Schuster;
Cooking Traditionally With Little Time To Cook, Jen Allbritton, Wise Traditions Periodical, Volume 12 Number 4, Winter 2011

Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She lives in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached by email: brandt.s@sasktel.net. Also see the colour display ad on page 13 of the 17.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.


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