FOOD RELATIONSHIPS & INTERCONNECTEDNESS
Remember that food is the most basic link with the source of life. Be thankful for it, pray over it, honor it. We are not just filling our belly; we are nurturing our mind and spirit as well. Eating with full awareness puts us in harmony with nature – not only with the external world, but also our own inner nature. ~ Carrie Angus
Whom + When
As a people, we are collectively fascinated by the food choice of others. There are personal criticisms and political labels associated to food choice, and people find personal identity by what they put on their plate. Many people assume that yogis are vegetarians. Many people entering into yoga look toward the Yoga Sutra’s concept of Ahimsa, non-harming, as the golden rule which speaks to this assumption. When it comes to food choice, you must always consider to whom and when.
Individual body types, ever-changing seasons of people’s lives, cultural and religious norms, food availability, among innumerable other factors contribute to the access and the belief systems about food. It is important to note that countless people struggle daily with their body image. Many teens I work with suffer from eating disorders, which I can relate to as I also experienced bulimia. I have often witnessed dangerous food shaming of others from many people who claim they practice yoga. Also, people may mask eating disorders claiming they eat a yogic diet.
What is a yogic diet? There is no answer, but I believe it is simply being acutely aware of what is being put in the body. It is necessary to witness your personal judgments regarding another’s plate. I encourage you to honor the needs of your body, and to honor how those needs change.
Creating Space to Eat
We are in a culture of dis-ease regarding time use. “If I’m not stressed, I’m not working hard enough.” People rush from one event to the next, and for many, the art of food preparation is often reserved to be received in higher-end restaurants. People eat in a distracted state of mind. Food is swallowed on-the-go in cars, in front of television and computer screens, and thawed within minutes in the microwave. There is disconnect not only with the efforts of the many sources food, from where it was grown to how it was handled to reach us, and in this disconnect we separate ourselves from others.
Greater satisfaction and holistic nourishment can be had by simply holding space with food. Many people often enjoy the beautiful ritual of prayer before meals, or simply holding hands and breathing deeply together. No matter how the food ritual takes place, the intention blesses the energetic qualities of the food and honors shared space with others and your self. Even if you appreciate the colors and textures before you, no matter how simple or for how long, you more easily will be able to recognize the often complex interconnection that occurred to bring the food to the plate.
Countless focus groups in the wide-ranging food industry examine countless food combinations. Food trends that develop have their educational place, but they can also be very dangerous. Again, consider the Ayurvedic mantra for whom and when. For example, beautiful results can be had in carefully planned diets that are heavy in juicing. My yogi friend has a high Vatta dosha, which requires mostly warm and heavier foods to balance and ground holistic energy. This friend attempted to be sustained by juicing for 30-days, ignoring Ayurvedic wisdoms. In this timeframe, her mental awareness and physical body were greatly damaged. She was in two car accidents, she forgot to complete basic daily routines, she experienced great confusion over simple tasks, she was not functional at her job, she lost partial vision as well as muscle mass. In turn, her ego was proud to complete this 30-day juicing challenge and chose not to recognize the damaging after-effects. Recovery is unique to the individual, yet it took her over a year to feel ‘back to normal’ after reintroducing proper food into her system, and only then did she question her choice to fast on juice.
Ultimately, we live in an age where many countries are blessed to have access to various food options. In turn, there is growing awareness around ever-changing lifestyle choices and emerging food allergies. Some folks are lactose and gluten sensitive. Vegans are people who consciously choose not to ingest any animal product, including honey, milk, yeast, and eggs. Vegetarians are people who consciously choose not to eat animal flesh, including chickens or fish. Pescatarians are people who have fish as their only meat source. Omnivores are people who choose to eat a variety of meat and dairy, along with a spectrum of grains and vegetables. As individuals, we are often in flux with what feels right for us emotionally and physically, and our food choices reflect that.
Theory of Animal Consumption + Environmental Affects
As children, we may have been raised in homes and schools that taught us to identify a healthy nutritional diet. The food pyramid was originally created over one hundred years ago by the United States Department of Agriculture and has been updated many times since. It is criticized due to wide belief that it’s creation supported and established the economic drive of agriculture, mainly the dairy and meat industry. Meat consumption is a conversation that is permeated across cultures and religions around the planet. On average, Americans eat 270 pounds of meat annually, per person. The meat and dairy producing industries are recognized as main contributors to environment pollutants such as methane, scientifically recognized as most damaging greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide.
The innate interconnectedness of food choice directly affects the quality of water, air, and life for all living creatures. To fulfill consumption needs, the use of antibiotics, pesticides, and the clear cutting of forests and greenbelts for farming has decimated wild animal populations, the cultures of indigenous tribes, and has caused the extinction of animals and essential fungus species found in soil. As a result, a broad range of ailments, including various types and spectrums of cancer, autism, and other mental and physical health risks are on the rise as never seen before in known history.
Additionally, each year on behalf of the livestock industry Wildlife Services spends millions of tax-payers dollars to kill native carnivores and predators, such as wolves, bears, coyotes, mountain lions, among others. Endangered species including prairie dogs, sages grouse, and grizzly bears that live on U.S. Federal land are threatened.
(Based on United States Environmental Protection Agency + National Academy of Sciences / www.cowspiracy.com)
80% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for livestock. 80% of agricultural land in the United States is used to raise and feed livestock. The meat and dairy industry use one-third of the planet’s fresh water. Agriculture, alone, is responsible for the use of 80-90% of water consumption in the United States 5% is used in private homes compared to 55% in animal agriculture. For example, one hamburger takes the equivalent of 16 pounds of grain 3000 liters of water, which is about 2 months worth of personal daily showering. Each year, factory farms dump 220 billion gallons of animal waste onto farmland and into waterways, resulting in 35,000 miles of polluted U.S. rivers, threatening endangered species of fish, amphibians and birds.
In our Western marketplaces, we are blessed with abundant choices. We can eat strawberries and tomatoes in the thick of a northern winter. However, the efforts to bring in those out-of-season products require additional man-power, emission-producing gas for transportation, and the need for more plastic packaging.
Ensuring responsible and honorable stewardship of animals is vital for the health of individuals and the planet, yet is lacking throughout most of the world’s agriculture industry. Most animals in the meat industry never see the light of day. They are mournfully separated from their mothers at birth and are physically maimed without numbing effects for the convenience of their handlers, or for their own ‘health’. Animals are often contained in filthy, over crowded environments and often in tiny cages that allow neither fresh air nor room to move.
Animals are largely objectified. It is easier to not think about where our food comes from, or consider the life that was taken to feed humans. As a child, I was told by my elders that animals don’t have physical sensations and do not feel emotions. Ultimately, we as a people take the honor from these highly sensitive, confused, and unappreciated lives. As a school teacher, most of my fourth graders had no concept that hamburgers come from cows and bacon comes from pigs. The face of our food is diminished for our own comfort, and cheap meat is celebrated in grocery store chains.
Good news is happening as awareness of interconnectedness is growing through educational efforts. The conversation of the respect of animals is beginning to take shape across age groups and political lines. Local farms are more supported by their communities now than they have been in the last 40 years. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offer seasonal produce and animal products from responsible, often organic, stewardships.
What is the diet of a yogi? Again, there is no answer. Personally, I am blessed to have large control over my food choices. Other times I do not, but I bless my food and the intention of my host and I enjoy the moment in gratitude. What I strive to embody in my Practice is tremendous awareness of whom is my food offering and the energy in which it was holistically respected in the cycle of interdependence. Initially, this awareness caused great discomfort and tremendous grief, especially after seeking visual images, but I refused to become numb. And I naturally changed what I ate. I literally feel the energetic lifespan of my food. I’m always looking at opportunities to look deeper into my own choices, feel the needs of my body, and be the change I wish to see.
A Meditation of Presence + Gratitude
Allow food to be a feast for your senses. This is a meditation to ground you to the moment.
- Am I distracted from what is before me?
- Is my plate created with intention and artistry?
- What palate of colors lie before me?
- What smells can be individually distinguished and what unified melody is created?
- Can I taste the sunshine in this fruit?
- Can I feel the energetic health of the soil in which it grew?
- Does it feel loved?
- What range of textures unfold as flavors are released in my mouth?
- How does this food make me feel emotionally?
- Do I feel expanded or constricted when I take this bite?