Thursday, January 4, 2018

Karma Cooks

Chop, Chop!
      Grandma loved to cook. She also spent much of her time thinking, talking and reading about cooking. When we went out to restaurants she had the habit of asking people at neighboring tables about their selection, "That looks delicious; what is it?" She had an undeniable way of equating loving care with food. Consistent with her sense of hospitality she supported her family as a career waitress. When she wasn't out serving food at a bustling restaurant she could be found in her own kitchen, feeding her family, and a regular crew of drop-ins. Browsing through her well used Betty Crocker cookbook (which I feel fortunate to have inherited) I recall her nurturing ways.
Unlike both of my grandmothers I did not have a household of mouths to feed, nor did I live through the Great Depression. I've never followed a recipe from Betty Crocker, and wouldn't know what to do with a frozen chicken. Contrastingly, my interest in cooking grew from working in beautiful yoga focused settings, emphasizing the path of karma yoga. Karma yoga is also known as "seva" or selfless service. The idea is to serve from the heart which is accomplished by tending to the present moment with compassion for all. It's one of the branches of yoga that seeks to develop habits of mindfulness during ordinary tasks. Whether working in a kitchen or just feeding yourself everyday, food preparation is one of the many practical ways to practice yoga.

Garden to Table
My first experience with karma yoga was at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. During the 3.5 month commitment at the center I had a rather tumultuous relationship with my kitchen shifts. I was often fixated on experiencing the more pleasant parts of the day. Yoga classes, lectures, outdoor time and freedom were all waiting for me. If only I could check the mundane, time consuming, kitchen chores off my list. Despite the advice we received about doing our work with love and presence, my mind was often watching the clock. "Cut up one more bag of potatoes and then I'll start enjoying this place."

In addition to not getting the point of karma yoga, I was content in assuming the best about the origins of my food. My emphasis on being healthy had little regard for the planet. Yet, there would always be someone initiating a food reflection. The reflections acknowledged everything and everyone involved in making the meal possible. Just another thing I muddled through,"Yes, the food had to go through a lot to get here, let's eat already!" Looking back at my tender young self gives me a sense of compassion for those who may feel similarly today. During my karma yoga experiences, I always enjoyed participating in a vegetarian lifestyle, but inevitably resumed an all-inclusive cuisine once I returned to the "real world."

Cookbook Revolution
I did not anticipate transitioning to a vegan diet at the age of 45. However, the realities of animal agriculture, climate change and land misuse became suddenly unpalatable to me. If animal agriculture is the main cause of deforestation, why was I supporting it? Factory farming practices were not getting any less  cruel, corrupt or unsustainable. My strategy of eating only grass-fed burgers (which provides a better life for the cow) failed to address the misuse of the resources needed to create a happier cow. Although my taste buds were a bit worried at first, my craving and addiction for meat and dairy products has subsided. To my surprise, I have even developed a distaste for animal products.

One of the big reasons I participated in the animal food chain for so long was to avoid offending or inconveniencing others. The idea of seeming ungrateful was unthinkable to me. Now that I see how the meat and dairy industry harms people, animals and the planet, I'm no longer concerned about being overly polite or unnecessarily accommodating. If a simple, "no thank you" offends someone, perhaps the examination of good manners falls on them. It may sound picky or precious to abstain from certain "foods," but personal freedom is something I feel very fortunate to exercise and celebrate.

Karma yoga planted some mindfulness seeds that have finally taken over my kitchen. It's not a stretch to expand concepts of nourishment to include: caring about the health of farmers, the land and water, needless suffering of animals, and the elimination of harmful chemicals in our food systems.

Even though I won't be following any recipes from my grandma's cookbook, I will be using her nurturing intentions. She was a karma cook of another generation. Access to organic food, resources and information allow me to continue her legacy, by turning up the heat on love, the main ingredient in all of her dishes.

~May all beings be free from suffering~

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