Food as a Vital Part
of Our Spiritual Journey
by Sandra Brandt
To be sustainable and health giving, our diet must harmonize with
our manner of being in the world. —Charles Eisenstein, The Yoga of Eating
We are constantly evolving: in body, mind, and spirit; as individuals; in groups; and as cultures. Our interaction with food is part of that evolution. For some, this evolution may take the form of regularly checking out the latest packaged food products. For others, it can involve trying out new recipes or restaurants. For still others, including myself, it means making food a vital part of our ever-deepening spiritual pathway.
I have long been passionate about becoming more knowledgeable and skillful in the art of food preparation and eating, and in serving the best possible quality of food to myself, my family, and my friends. Through my study of food philosophies and practices, and my work in past years as a natural foods retailer, I’ve come to realize more profoundly how wonderfully life giving the world of food can be.
Healthy eating is not just about following medical or nutritional experts’ advice on what to eat and what not to eat, when to eat, how much, counting calories, fat grams, vitamins, antioxidants, etc. etc. Far from it! For me, healthy eating, that is eating for life itself, happens when I am intimately connected to what I’m eating. This happens when I am aware of the sources of my food, when I understand the paths it has travelled to reach me, when the food has been lovingly prepared by either someone I know or by myself, and when I consciously enjoy it, and feel gratitude for both the gift of food, and for those with whom I am sharing it. This whole process encourages me to be discriminating about what I choose to put inside my body and the manner in which I choose to eat. But rather than experiencing these choices as dietary sacrifices, I feel abundantly blessed by the delightful practice of choosing and enjoying the best foods that are available to me at any given time.
One of the greatest inspirations for me in my current understanding and teaching about the philosophy of food is the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which publicizes a wealth of information and research on their website www.westonaprice.org. The focus of this educational organization is on the health-giving aspects of traditional food wisdom (as contrasted with the current social food-related priorities of convenience and low cost). This foundation also works tirelessly in the American political arena to lobby lawmakers to stop favouring the industrial food product industry at the expense of small producers and suppliers who provide higher quality food, but who also face economic disadvantages in the marketplace.
I was inspired by some very encouraging friends, to share my particular passion for eating well with others in a more formal setting. Thus, I began offering “Wholistic Cooking Classes” five years ago. The name of the classes denotes food as an integral part of a holistic lifestyle, with the connotation of “Wholeness” in the integration of the various aspects of life.
In my cooking classes, we typically gather as a group of 6 to 12 people in my own home kitchen. I hand out a collection of about half a dozen recipes, some of which are my own inventions, which often focus on a theme, such as “Winter Soups” or “Holiday Feasting.” I prepare each recipe in the handout as a demonstration, adding in interesting facts I’ve gleaned about various ingredients, such as their history, their nutritional value as seen by different cultures and traditions, and my own experience in their use. We also have questions and discussion and sharing of food experiences among participants as we proceed through the preparations. Sometimes I ask for participants’ help in stirring a pot, or some other hands-on work. After all preparations are completed, we all enjoy sampling the food together. And after a shared meal, we always part company in good spirits and with renewed determination to eat well!
My satisfaction feels even more complete when I receive feedback from participants such as “I tried these recipes with my family and they loved them” or “I have a whole new way of looking at food after coming to these classes” or “Foods are so much more digestible when prepared in these ways.” Other comments such as “I’m so glad I can eat butter without guilt now” arise from the teaching that when we relate to food in this particular way, we can shed our modern phobias around many nourishing traditional foods that sustained our ancestors for countless generations.
I also recommend my favourite cookbooks and holistic nutrition writers to class participants, for example Paulette Millis’s collection of excellent cookbooks (and her bi-monthly contributions to WHOLifE Journal), and Sally Fallon’s timeless Nourishing Traditions cookbook. These are a wonderful way to jump start one’s own creative culinary initiatives.
As a result of my cooking classes, I have been invited to speak more widely about Food, Eating, and Spirituality. In such diverse settings as church groups, library talks, university workshops, and employee staff days, I have had a variety of opportunities to get people thinking, talking about, and appreciating food in new ways. In March, I will be a co-presenter for a weekend program at Calling Lakes Centre (www.callinglakes.ca) near Fort Qu’Appelle called “Food as Gift.” During this weekend, we will explore the idea of food as gift through sharing our stories, preparing food together, and visiting local producers in search of Sunday breakfast—the First Annual Calling Lakes Local Food Scavenger Hunt! We will focus on the choices each of us make around food—from the seeds that we put into the earth to the meals we put on our tables. As well as looking at what we are eating, we will look at how we eat—at the spirit we bring to our meals, at how we can truly experience and enjoy each bite of food.
For me, good wholesome food is one of the main springboards from which I experience the blessings of life. As my understanding of food evolves, so my understanding of life evolves along with it. At times my spiritual / emotional life may feel somewhat arid and dry, and so my eating habits and experiences may go through some less uplifting times, too. At other times my spirit soars as I contemplate the goodness of life and of delicious food. Through it all, the cycles of life continue and we can continue to honour and give thanks for that most basic of gifts in this life—FOOD!
Deluxe Roasted Squash
Perfect for brightening up a fall or winter meal.
Cut one kabocha or buttercup squash (about 2 lbs) in half, scoop out seeds, and cut into wedges, as thinly as possible. Combine squash wedges in a bowl with generous amounts of thickly cut red onion wedges, red and green pepper slices, and a few cloves of garlic.
Combine and mix with vegetables:
Olive oil and soy sauce (about 2 tbsp of each), or a few tbsp each for an average sized squash.
Some crumbled dried herbs (eg. oregano, basil, thyme)
Spread vegetable mixture in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake at 350ºF about 1/2 hour, or until squash slices are tender and golden brown.
These make a great on-the-go breakfast, snack, or a sweet ending to a light meal.
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 cup liquid honey
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp unrefined salt
2-4 tbsp plain yogurt
Combine and add:
2 cups quick oatmeal
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup cocoa powder
Mix well. Spread mixture evenly in 8 x 8 cake pan. Cover tightly with wax paper and let sit at room temp overnight or equivalent time. (By letting it sit, the moisture softens up the oatmeal and the yogurt culture makes it easier to digest.) Then cut into bars (may refrigerate first for a more solid texture).
References: Eisenstein, Charles, The Yoga of Eating: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self, New Trends Publishing, 2003; Fallon, Sally, Nourishing Traditions, New Trends Publishing, 1999; Millis, Paulette, Eat Away Illness, Soul Food Publishing, 2009.
Sandra Brandt is located in Regina, SK. If you are interested in learning more about her Wholistic Cooking Classes or presentations, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (306) 359-1732. Also see the display ad on page 13 of the 15.5 January/February
issue of the WHOLifE Journal for details on the weekend workshop in March at Calling Lakes Centre.