Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A real 268, and it is comforting...

Nice. That means I am truly under 270 for the first time since about June. It feels really good. Moreover, it feels good to be in control again. It is a never-ending amazement to me just how pernicious "food as a comfort" is in life. People can and often do say that that's programmed into us, and in a sense that is true, but at the sam time, it also indicates a willingness to be a victim. If I know that eating to comfort myself is bad for me over-all, and I am alone with no one encouraging me to do either this or that, then it all lands squarely on me, doesn't it? Yes, tubby, it does.

But food as comfort is very powerful. Hell, iconic. Paula Dean build her fat-laden artery-clogging empire on it! But there are ways to translate that comfort from something uplifting but unhealthy into something that comforts both the heart and the body.

My daughter often stops by with a plea for me to feed her. She lives the typical hand-to-mouth existence that so many 20-somethings do these days. She works at a local fast-food chain that actually specializes in higher-quality fast food: free-range beef with no anti-biotics, high-quality ingredients, and local, seasonal offerings. As far as fast-food goes, it's pretty good. But the food for here there is not FREE. She gets a discount, but everybody's belts are tight right now. So "Can I has foodz" is a pretty common txt message plea I get. Her boyfriend--a champ of a guy--also sits at my counter pretty frequently. He's turning into a bit of a foodie working as a prep-cook and server at a local large-chain grocery store in town. He and I talk about food a lot. I share the same wisdom with him that I shared with my daughter while growing up (that she was at one point in time sick of hearing, but now really appreciates knowing) which is; "Understand that you and your food share a much greater connection than just 'plate, fork, mouth'. I teach him the same things: even if you're broke, 'cheap' food is cheap for a reason, and typically not a good one.

Last night I was on dad-duty, having been asked to make "comfort food" because her wisdom teeth are coming in, and they asked if I'd fix a squishy dinner: perogies and hand-made Hungarian-style seitan sausages topped with fried onions, vegan sour cream and ajvar. After the plates were clean, and she was basking in fullness with no jaw pain, she said "At the worst time in my life, I'd think about you and your cooking." I nearly started to cry. Then he made it worse by saying "Only my mom every made me feel this cared-for, and she wasn't half the cook you are."

I'm a good cook. Not a great cook. I know this. I'd fail at culinary school for a dozen different reasons. I cook because I love to make people happy. I cook because I need to eat, and no one is better suited to prepare something I'm willing to eat but me. My ethics are taken into account, from the store to the farmer's market to the cast-iron to the table. But to have that simple love from two people expressed so earnestly and simply is humbling. And to have the food be something that is healthier than any alternative they can get, yet be so satisfying to them just makes me feel better about it.

I was a strict vegan for nearly three years, and the vast majority of my meals are still, in fact, vegan. Living that way was an awesome and humbling lesson in food politics and ethics. I'm not a vegan anymore, and that is an even greater lesson. I will always respect my vegan brothers and sisters for their motivation to live their life that way, and it would be a much happier and healthier world were more people to at least TRY veganism. But two of the people in my life whose ethics I respect the most--my Dharma teachers--are not vegan. On retreat last March, I had a realization about my path. Those two people--healthy in mind, spirit and body--are not averse to eating things that at one point in time I eschewed for mostly ethical (virtually moral) reasons. And I suddenly realized the path for me: If they can find a point of balance and ethical moderation with certain ingredients and dietary inclusions, so can I. That's my lesson. That's my path. I need to find the middle way...

No matter how hard we try, we won't make the world a vegan planet. Yet at the same time, constantly eating any damn thing we want all the time like it's our birthright is the wrong end of the spectrum. And for as many vegans as their are showing the utility and practicality of a vegan diet, there should also be people who are willing to be closer to the center, showing that you can be healthy and happy by practicing simple mindfulness and moderation, and not necessarily abstinance. People who practice thanking the chicken for an egg every time it's included. People who are mindful that suffering has occurred in the most conscientious of dairy farming, and the cheese carries that karma, and they willingly take that karma on as a way to balance the karma of the world, thanking the cow, and the local farmer, actively in the process. People who use soy cheese so that they may have real dairy cheese once in a while as a treat, not a right. People like my kids, who are willing to learn about using just a little less, so that they can appreciate other things just a little more when it happens, and yet still feel comforted and sated. People like my teachers, who are more mindful of their connection to food than anyone I know.

And people like me, who are trying to show that there is a center, and there lies balance. People like me. Trying to find balance. I, too, must be a teacher. I, too, must be an example. If more people were like me, literally billions of lives would be spared, both animal as well as human. No, not as many lives as if we'd all be vegan, but the reduction of suffering is, and can never be, a unilateral deal. We must start somewhere, and we must live a realistic life. I have lost weight just by being reasonable, and enjoying things in (albeit strict) moderation. And it serves as both lesson as well as practice.

And I am grateful for both.

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