Being busy, Buddha, and what's for dinner?
It's been a good, long while since I posted anything on this blog...and even longer since a post was purposefully and independently written for Goodshmeats. I suppose I'm fortunate (though also burdened) by the fact that life in New York City and working for two small, passionate non-profits like Hazon , Zeek, keep a girl completely occupied.
But I just finished a phenomenal book called If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body and Awaken Your Spirit, by Hale Sofia Schatz, and felt compelled to put aside my other projects to write. My boss gave a copy to Hazon's entire staff the day before leaving for a two-week "nourishment cleanse" in Turkey (led by Hale). I'm generally skeptical of anything that falls in the pop-psych, self-help genre, and expected to skim the first few pages and throw it on my ever-growing pile of half-read books. Instead, I finished the book in 2 days and experimented with one of the many recipes she includes in the back.
Hale's overarching thesis is that the physical body and the spiritual body are intertwined, and that damage or imbalance to one brings about damage and imbalance to the other. This is hardly a new idea. The Christian physiologists of the early 20th century (Sylvester Graham, Kellogg etc.), as well as many Eastern philosophies say a similar thing. But Hale's writing touched on something that resonates deeply for me, and that I had forgotten about in my overly hectic life. She writes about the importance of cooking as part of one's daily rhythm. She calls it the importance of spending time at the "hearth."
It is too easy to fall into the trap of rushing meals, grabbing quick and pre-packaged foods, and eating at one's desk or in the car rather than preparing a meal and sharing it with friends or family. As a result, many people end up (I know I do) - more often than they would like - eating unhealthy food that is damaging to their bodies in the long-term, that is often overly packaged, overly-processed, and ultimately, unsatisfying to anything other than the most rudimentary pangs of hunger.
I realized while reading If the Buddha Came to Dinner, that I hadn't done a substantive "food shop" in over a month. This is partly due to having a CSA share that provides a weekly influx of vegetables and fruit. But, more than that, it is because I somehow have found a way to fill my stomach during the workday by purchasing food in east Midtown (the most culinarily-uninspiring part of Manhattan), and at the myriad of restaurants I go to in the evenings. Occasionally I would run to a corner stores to buy staples like milk or a loaf of bread, but I hadn't really shopped, or cooked food for myself.
My lack of cooking was taking a toll on my available spending money, and also on my overall self-satisfaction. My body felt sluggish. I ached to chop vegetables (really!), and have the smells of garlic and browning onions filling my house.
After reading Hale's book, I felt reinspired to return hearth time into my daily routine. Cooking can be a pain to squeeze in between work, social engagement, and all of life's other commitments. And there is no way that I can completely give up the realities nasty Midtown lunch (though I shudder to think about them). But Hale reminded me that my overall happiness and productivity is actually linked to the time I spend making a pot of soup, cooking up some greens, baking challah on Shabbat, or even doctoring up a box of Annie's Macaroni and cheese with sauteed tomatoes. For those of you who remember the book testimonials on the 1980s kids' program Reading Rainbow (and equally for those who don't) "I highly recommend you go out and buy If the Buddha Came to Dinner.