Read an Excerpt
The Healing Secrets of Food
A Practical Guide for Nourishing Body, Mind, and Soul
By Deborah Kesten
New World LibraryCopyright © 2001 Deborah Kesten
All rights reserved.
Out of the Dark Ages
The truth shall set you free, the Bible tells us. Each time you implement the nutritional truths in this book, you'll be set free from the tyranny of dieting, obsessing about food, and worrying about the best way to eat. When you familiarize yourself with the healing secrets of food spelled out in this chapter, confusion will turn to clarity.
Although your interest in food and nutrition may be to "eat well," to reduce the risk of illness, or to pursue the "perfect" diet or body, for many, food has become something that creates both physical and emotional havoc. We go on diets, overanalyze and obsess about food, turn to it as an enemy or friend, eat too much, eat too little, worry about it, avoid it, crave it, revere it, or believe that a particular nutrient will magically halt heart disease or cure cancer.
Yet even with such conscientious attention to food, we've become the fattest people in the world (along with the Pacific Islanders). I am disheartened and dismayed that in the face of this daunting statistic, we continue to pursue the "magic diet," the miracle supplement, the special, secret elixir that will keep us thin and heal us – effortlessly.
Our Magical Mystery Tour
The unrealistic, unrewarding, and frustrating way in which many of us relate to food can be illuminated by one of my favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz, and its many meaningful messages. When we think of this classic, beloved fantasy film, we remember Dorothy's attempt to return home "to her own backyard" and the companions she meets along the way: the indecisive scarecrow who needs "smarts," the cognitive tin man who hopes for a heart, and the meek lion who seeks courage. Much of the story is about the challenges they meet as they make their way to the Emerald City, believing the wizard will magically solve their physical and emotional problems.
In our ongoing quest for magical results from fad diets and our willingness to believe claims about substances (such as diet products) that are often aggrandized beyond what they are capable of delivering, are we not like Dorothy and her friends who sought to correct their limitations by seeking help from an illusory savior? "If you were really great and powerful, you would keep your promises," Dorothy admonished the Wizard when he reneges on his promise to grant their wishes. Isn't Dorothy's frustration similar to our own when yet another diet, another pill, another potion doesn't deliver the promised results? Doesn't Dorothy's sense of hopelessness about finding someone to solve her problems remind us of our own hopelessness about finding the magic mix of nutrients or the perfect diet to heal us?
The lessons in The Wizard of Oz suggest that the solution to our search for the optimal way to eat lies within us and our rich dietary heritage, that dietary wisdom and the best eating style have always been in our own backyards, in the depths of our own cultural, spiritual, and scientific traditions. In other words, food itself holds the answers for which we've been searching, but we've been looking in every direction except food and its timeless wisdom. Instead, some of us have turned to diet books, while others have been looking for answers by going to retreats and spas; still others have been pursuing practices such as meditation.
Regardless of our efforts, though, our trips to these various "wizards" aren't working as well as we'd like in helping us tap into food's healing powers. This is because we're trying to heal our body, mind, soul, and connection to community piecemeal. All the while, we're ignoring the solution in our own backyard: all six pieces of the healing secrets of food puzzle discussed throughout this book.
Creating Conscious Connection
Because our food-related health problems are both ongoing and worsening, it's a shame that we continue to walk down the same well-trodden food path. What we fail to realize is that many of society's problems stem from the fact that we are either physically isolated (watching TV, working alone at the computer, dining alone) or emotionally disconnected from one another, from the Divine, from the earth – and often from ourselves.
This physical isolation and emotional disconnection is also evident in our relationship to food. In our hurry-worry society, we no longer enjoy meals at the table, in quiet settings, with people we love, with food that's truly nourishing. After all, don't many of us eat while driving home, while standing at the kitchen counter, while strolling in a shopping mall, quickly, mindlessly? Aren't many of us focusing solely on flavor or nutrient content or constantly dieting? In this way, we're neglecting our spirit, we are destroying our souls.
Ultimately, our busyness and focusing solely on externals such as weight keep us from seeing a simple yet profound truth: we must connect with what we're eating, become one with its nourishing life force, or we may not survive. Consider this poem about the spiritual consequences of separation and disconnection from the primordial source of life, written by Sufi mystic and poet Jelaluddin Rumi in the thirteenth century:
Listen to the story told by the reed
of being separated.
Since I was cut from the reed bed
I have made
this crying sound. Anyone
separated from someone he loves
understands what I say:
from a source
longs to go back
(The Illuminated Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)
It's a tragedy that we've become separated from the eternal source, the realm of ever-present love, the same primordial source from which both we and food evolved. The good news is that because the healing secrets of food have been with us for ages, we can relearn them and turn to them to reconnect with what is meaningful about food (and all aspects of life). After all, isn't this sense of connection to, and interconnection with, food at the core of what we're searching for when we window-shop for the best way to eat or pursue such popular spiritual paths as yoga and meditation? Aren't many who participate in the New Age movement trying to return to a place that people before us went to each time they ate? We, too, can visit this same spiritual abode by practicing the healing secrets whenever we're shopping for, cooking, or eating food.
Gleaned from insights derived from our evolutionary and spiritual ancestors, much of my integrative eating approach evolved from lasting, basic beliefs about food that have inspired and sustained humankind for centuries. Without thinking about it, our ancestors turned each "food moment" into a meaningful experience, a time to create conscious connection to the mystery of life inherent in both food and in us. Once you visit this wise, multifaceted culinary world, you may never want to return to today's limited view of food. As a matter of fact, you'll find that it's much easier to relearn the ancient food wisdom inherent in the healing secrets and to flavor your meals with these timeless values than to continue on the path of confusion and escalating isolation and illness.
The Six Healing Secrets
Because our current approach to nutrition isn't working well for so many of us, as a nutrition researcher, educator, and health journalist, it appalls me that so much of the literature in my field continues to focus exclusively on only one of the six secrets: what to eat. If the dice in Las Vegas casinos were fixed so that only the same side kept showing up every time you rolled them, everyone would scream "cheat!"
We are being cheated nutritionally. Food constitutes a six-part gift, but all we're hearing about is one thing. But this skewed perspective, focusing solely on the physiological aspects of food, has become the norm. I call our one-sided, limited view the Dark Ages of nutrition. We think that nutritional science is at its pinnacle, but in fact, most of us are still in the dark about what can most benefit us about food. This is because we're ignoring the most important elements of food and nutrition – the healing secrets of food – that have served humankind for centuries. They are:
1. Unite with others through food.
2. Be aware of your feelings before, during, and after eating.
3. Bring moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness to each aspect of the meal.
4. Appreciate food and its origins – from the heart.
5. Create union with the Divine by "flavoring" food with love.
6. Eat fresh, whole foods in their natural state as often as possible.
All these elements count – not just one or two in isolation. With this book, I hope to expose the injustice and partisanship of this one-sided view by insisting that the other sides of the "nutritional dice" get fair play. I'll show you how to eat optimally by revealing all sides of the dice – the healing secrets of food – the "nutrients" missing from the food charts.
From Secret to Celebration
As powerful as the healing secrets of food are, I am disappointed that experts – from food writers to dietitians and religious leaders – don't learn, practice, and teach what these secrets have to offer, emphasizing their valuable health-giving properties and benefits every opportunity they get. I am disappointed that we consider only what can be measured in food, while we've forgotten that what is not so easily measured might be much more valuable to our health. I am disappointed that society as a whole isn't paying more attention to the healing secrets of food. Instead we choose to ignore a powerful truth: food has the ability to heal us in many ways – if we take the time to tap into its powerful healing properties.
I'm concerned that the healing secrets of food will remain secrets as long as we continue to insist that food is a two-dimensional issue: satisfying taste buds, or meeting nutritional requirements. Instead of yet another article about "fifty things you can do with Jell-O," we need to celebrate the secrets. Women's magazines, health magazines, and food and beauty magazines should all be touting the secrets, putting them on their covers, broadcasting them. Instead, food editors would have you believe that only pleasing your palate matters; many religious leaders would have you think that your relationship with God doesn't count when you eat, that it's present only when you're in formal prayer or devotion; and nutrition and food experts would have you focus exclusively on calories and nutrients. We're not seeing food's connection to others; its connection to our feelings; its connection to nature; its connection to God; and of course, its profound, multidimensional connection to ourselves. The end result is that food isn't satisfying, because our relationship to it is incomplete and disconnected from the whole of life.
Where, I wonder, is the meaning, the invisible satisfaction in our food? The human connection? The pleasure? The delight? The soul satisfaction? Where are the missing "secret ingredients," what philosopher Huston Smith calls "forgotten truth" about food and its meaning in our lives? Author Ken Wilbur articulates this dilemma of objective scientific truth versus underlying meaning that cannot be measured objectively. In his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul, he writes, "Science is clearly one of the most profound methods that humans have yet devised for discovering truth, while religion remains the single greatest force for generating meaning."
Our ancient ancestors understood instinctively the significance of putting meaning into meals. Throughout the centuries, people of many religions and cultural traditions have infused food with meaning in ways that are still evident today. For instance, devout Christians begin meals with a prayer of thanks; Indians refer to bhoga, a collective term for any food ingredient being used as an offering to God; with compassion for food animals as a guideline, Jewish dietary laws specify prohibited and acceptable food; and a reverence for, and connection to, nature and food is an integral part of Native American Indian beliefs.
When the meaning in our meals is lost, what's left is a list of rules and regulations that are not meaningful and therefore not motivating or sustainable. This truth became evident as my mom and dad struggled to overcome their heart problems. I knew they understood the heart-healthy dietary information I'd given them, but in retrospect, I realize that the underlying message was, "You should be eating differently. You should stop eating familiar and comfortable foods. You should assess and analyze what you're eating." Should. Surely what we should do or eat isn't a great motivator (nor is it emotionally appetizing). Indeed, the dictionary states that the word should implies obligation. Is this what food is really about? Is it something we're obligated to eat, to analyze, to weigh, to judge, to avoid, to crave, to overconsume, to underconsume, to control, to love, to hate, to fear, or to revere?
When we assess the vast nutritional resources of our culinary heritage and merge this wisdom with what modern nutritional science has to tell us, our relationship to food becomes integrative and therefore optimal. In lieu of being tossed around in a storm of nutrients and numbers, you become empowered to actualize an eating style that holds the potential not only to nourish your physical health but also to enhance your emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Food becomes a celebration of life.
The Main Course
With this book, I'm calling for a renaissance – a reflowering of the way we view food and nutrition. This new view asks that we pay attention to all the healing secrets – and to demystifying, understanding, and practicing them every day. I'm especially thrilled to tell you about these long-lost healing secrets – not only because of their timeless wisdom, but because they contain the answers we've been looking for – but in all the wrong places.
Ultimately, their message is simple: the healing gifts of food are available to us each time we eat. As a matter of fact, every time you shop for, prepare, and eat food you have the opportunity to connect with the lifegiving, life-containing mystery inherent in food. These activities are also opportunities to connect with loved ones, with the earth, with life itself. In this way, you can heal not only yourself but, ultimately, the planet.CHAPTER 2
The Healing Secret of Socializing
Unite with others through food.
But now when I think of the ... meals: the Sunday dinners in the formal salle à manger ... the enormous suppers ... when soufflés sighed voluptuously ... and cold meats and salads and chilled fruits in wine and cream waited for us ... no, when I think of all that, it is the people I see. My mind is filled with wonderment at them as they were then.
– M. F. K. Fisher, Long Ago in France
Sitting together around a table for meals is far more than a practical necessity. In its sacral character the sharing of food and drink is probably the most ancient ritual of mankind.
– Manuela Dunn Mascetti and Arunima Borthwick,
Food for the Spirit
I am excited to be sharing the healing secret of socializing, because not only does it show you how to turn dining with others into a balm for body, heart, and soul but it also reveals that meals can contain invaluable memories that help to heal what writer Elizabeth Cady Stanton describes as "the solitude of self." As you will see, when you unite with others through food – and your eating style shifts from a "me" mentality to a "we" awareness – you'll feel connected to something larger than your personal concerns, food related and otherwise. And when you do, you'll ignite the healing light of social connection.
As extraordinarily simple as the healing secret of socializing appears, beware: it is a two-edged sword in that can be both easy and difficult to implement. As many of you know, the demands of home, family, and career – and contending with cellular phones, pagers, and ongoing E-mail that keep us on call seemingly twenty-four hours a day – make it challenging to carve out some quality quiet time, let alone time to dine with others. Yet, once you learn – as I did – the amazing healing possibilities of this social nutrition secret, your body, mind, and soul will instantly begin to reap the benefits.
As you read this chapter, keep in mind that I qualify this healing secret with the suggestion that you unite with others through food whenever it is feasible and possible. My intent is not to give you more dietary dogma to follow rigidly. Rather, this book is designed to empower you to eat optimally as often as possible. Accomplishing this calls for keeping your food issues and health concerns in mind as this and all the other chapters reveal the multidimensional ways in which with whom, how, and what you eat influence your health. At the end of this chapter, I'll show you easy ways to bring this healing secret into your life each day, but for now, it's important for you to grasp the simple concept that dining in a socially supportive environment makes a difference to your health and well-being.
Excerpted from The Healing Secrets of Food by Deborah Kesten. Copyright © 2001 Deborah Kesten. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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