It can be a bit of a challenge to curl up anywhere to read a 700 plus page book. Yet this is what I found myself doing today as I began reading Deborah Madison’s book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. As I looked at this book for a moment, I had this wave of feelings that went through me as I wondered, for a moment, what I had just committed to doing this year as I cook my way through her book, seeking to develop a deeper relationship with the plant offerings I eat, developing my culinary skills, seeking to modify them when needed to be diabetic friendly, and inspire me to create new dishes. At the same time, there was this wave of excitement. This cookbook about vegetarian cooking has been compared to Julia Child’s cookbook on French cooking. So until I am done cooking the over 1400 recipes in this book, it will be Sharon and Deborah, just like it was Julie and Julia. Then the journey began and like Bastian in The Never Ending Story, I opened the book and began reading the Introduction to my new culinary and spiritual adventure
Of all the things she spoke about in her introduction, the concept that caught my attention the most was that of teikkai, a Japanese word which means the provenance of food. It reminded me of how seldom we think about all those that gave that we might be nurtured. There used to be a show on the Food Network called How’d That Get On My Plate, which would trace the journey a food goes through before it winds up on our table. While most of what was on the show eventually wound up as processed food, the same is true of all foods, fruits, and vegetables included. Nothing we eat just shows up in the local grocery store or farmer’s market. There are so many people involved in the planting of the crops, the maintenance of the garden, the harvesting, and the transportation to the market or the grocery store. As Deborah wrote about, hmm almost wanted to say talked about, some vegetarians say they will not eat anything with a face, however, everything we eat in our lives has the faces, hands and love of all who have been a part of its life. Everything we eat has a face on it, whether we see it or not.
Once, when I was pastoring at my former church, I talked about how plants speak to each other. Scientific studies have found that plants respond to different kinds of music and to the sound of the human voice. Many plants, such as tomato plants, actually know how to talk to each other. For example, injured tomato plants release a chemical warning signal into the air, warning others to release their own chemicals to take care of themselves. It reminds me that even when we do not see plants and vegetables as having a face, they have a life of their own, which they sacrifice so that we might be fed and nurtured. It is with this mindfulness of all they have given that I might be nurtured that I approach my food and the preparation of it.
I did not always feel this way about food. I never thought about what I ate, sometimes I did not think about whether or not it tasted good. For several decades in my life, I used it as a drug, a way of attempting to medicate away the pain. It did not do any good. An overindulgence later, the issue was still there. It was when I made the conscious decision to change my relationship with food from that of a way of medicating to a gift from the Creator that my physical health began to increase. In the last year, I have lost approximately 51 lbs, mostly because I developed a spiritual relationship with the foods and beverages I was entering into my body.
While I am far more mindful of what I eat and where I purchase it, food for me is no longer about a way of medicating internal wounds, or eating to consume certain nutrients, rather food is about celebrating the gift each offering is and honoring it in the way I approach it, understand it, develop a relationship with it, and share it with others. The difference my approach in cooking makes became clear to me the other day when I made a casserole that my friends and family always love. Normally, when I prepare this very simple to make dish, I take my time and pour my soul into what I am making. However, the other day, I was not feeling well, but wanted to make what my family wanted. I knew as I was making it, that something was off. It was not that I was missing an ingredient, a physical one at least, but I was missing the ingredients of intent and love. Each person liked it and ate it. However, afterwards they each shared with me privately that something seemed to be missing. Some thought it was that there was not enough cheese; others thought it was not enough garlic. The reality is that there was not as much love and love makes any dish better.