Friday, January 27, 2012

Food. It is the stuff of breath and bone and tissue. Amino acids, the foundation of life over the period from primordial existence to the appearance of man, and all the stages of evolution encompassed therein. We are built by our own consumption.

It is no surprise, then, that much of my life is spent talking about food. A vegan. An athlete. A diabetic. My food is either the antidote to my ills, pabulum for my screaming muscles and deep inhalations as I run and ride, or the toxicant that will slowly kill me. Before the advent of insulin, diabetics were placed on starvation diets to manage blood glucose levels. Too much food or a morsel of the wrong sort, and the individual risked imminent death. Too little food, and the subject withered and died. Diabetes perched itself on the apex of oblivion, where satiety and starvation were at opposite ends of daily life.

It is with the advent of insulin that I can eat until full...but never without mindfulness.

It's easy to read that caveat - "mindfulness" - as a synonym for "fear." It is not. We are taught in the west that a food is the sum of its parts. Our reductionist nature and the demands of nutritional science dissect each vitamin and mineral. Charts are manufactured to illustrate how the tiniest particles of an egg contain a certain number of calories, so many milligrams of this or international units of that, and how to best represent them in a bowl or how to crush them into grains of sand-like powder and stuff them in a capsule. Those of us with diabetes make cautious calculations at each meal, trying to assess from grains of rice and cubes of vegetable the exact number of carbohydrates we are about to consume, and the precise amount of insulin needed to counter-act the effects on our bodies. The palate is ignored, the sensorial experience of kneading dough, smelling yeast, watching a loaf of bread come alive in the blister of an oven...these things are not contained in the computation of nutrients and the scientific understanding of those amino acids.

And so you'll find me in the kitchen, and often with a child at my side. We are not here to do the math of eating. We are here to enjoy the happy crusts of consumption : the process of nourishing body and spirit. The toddler chub of my daughter's fingers smash a clove of garlic, and she adeptly tears the sticky skin from its side. My son snips mint leaves for chutney, the tactile and olfactory joy connect him to his work and weave complex associations of taste and texture and smell that embed themselves in his mind to create comprehension. We are nurturing the physical and the cognitive.

And so it is that I eat ravenously, fearlessly and always with an eye toward good food. I spend hours tucking fresh mango into coconut rice for the children's bentos, or rolling dough for homemade blueberry animal crackers. I marinate mung beans in a pool of water for crisp cakes to be dipped in a bath of lime and cilantro. I simmer and stew vegetables for broth, and then ladle hot stock into arborrio rice for risotto. It is about eating well in all regards : good food, beautiful company and the comestibles that provide not only those building blocks of tissue and breath, but the things that feed the very essence of ourselves.
In our home, food is a process. It it a sacrifice from inception. Not the kind immolation that is literal, of course, as we are vegan and eschew the consumption of animals. Our mindfulness connects us to the manner in which the world about us impacts the world of our home, the space in ourselves. Our food affects our body in the same ways that our attitudes about ourselves are reflected in the foods we seek. Diabetes has made me more conscious of my consumption, as the ripples of each bite are measured by a finger stick, a droplet of my own blood, a number on a meter. Mindless consumption of the sort engaged in the drive thru, where chemical edibles are tossed on wax paper trash and thrust through a window, and then engulfed by rapid chomping on the way from one place to another...consumption in the home where a quick fix meal laced with synthetic substances is unwrapped from the from the freezer and tossed in the oven...these are the ideas that fuel excess and wreak havoc on the self, ending in a myriad of frightening ills for those with this disease - blindness, amputation, renal failure. We are told that one needs to feel full to stop eating, that food is comfort, or that one’s body would be better if it were skinnier. We are told to read labels, to decipher nutrients, to be reductionist in our food selections.

We are not told that food is about community. That, when we break bread with family and friends, we are nourishing the essential parts of the self. Cooking your own food also helps to recognize the value of what you consume. The more thought you put into your meal, the more healthful your selections are inclined to become. When you make food about the process of production, the sensory experience of creating good food, the taking of one ingredient at a time and making each cooperate and compliment the others as they mingle and marinate, you make something worth eating.

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