Know the story of your food...
My life work is about stories. I would say instead of a storyteller, I am a story-catcher. I receive stories all day from my children, my patients, the resident physicians I teach. I write stories, I weave stories into my speaking. Stories are my life and if you think about it, they really are at the heart of all of our lives. We feel more connected to one another when we share our story. And even more importantly, when we feel our own story has been heard, we feel safer.
So, it is only logical that this would become one of my dozen or so "food rules."
Know the story of your food...
This ritual has transformed my connection to food the way it might deepen your connection to an old friend or work colleague. After I started observing this food rule, my connection to food and in turn, the present moment, deepened powerfully. It is one of the simple food rules I have adopted for patients and myself when talking about how to live more healthily.
We eat several times a day, many of those at a table with others. Sometimes we pay attention, other times we are engrossed in conversation or plagued with worry. But each time we forget to bring our full awareness to the table, we miss out on not only the present moment but the power of our food. (Remember my blog post on the power of Inviting Gratitude to the Table?) So, what if you committed to know the story of at least one thing at the table each time you eat? What if this is the way you get to know your food, the way you acknowledge the powerful connection between your food and yourself? There are numerous ways to practice this but I will start with a personal example to illustrate.
I was on an amazing around the world journey with my family last fall, exploring the ways we could connect better to ourselves and each other through food and spirituality. On this journey we explored many ways to understand where our food comes from...how it is grown, sold, transported and then crafted into a magical presentation onto the table. And one of the foods I felt transformed by was one of the simplest things we use in every day life...pepper. Yep, pepper. We sprinkle it in the preparation of almost every meal. Or we use it at the dinner table, sometimes mindlessly, as we engage in conversation. It is ubiquitous in our lives but often goes unnoticed. At least it did for me.
Until I visited one of the world's epicenters of pepper production, a small region in southern Cambodia, called Kampot. In fact, Kampot pepper recently received Protected Geographical Indication from the EU. Like Champagne in France, the label indicates this unique product can only come from this region. This was a real coup given that although pepper had been grown here for centuries, the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970's decimated the region and this industry. This deserved revival is a gift to this beautiful country that finally has the opportunity to reopen to the world again. Kampot pepper in fact, is known as some of the most powerful and tastiest pepper in the world and here I was, visiting pepper plantations and getting to know it up close. What a gift.
What I learned was transformative for me in how I look at the table and one of the simplest offerings we have on it. Pepper plants can take 3-4 years to reach maturity. I had no idea! They are protected from too much direct sunlight, sometimes with the leaves of palm trees, lovingly shaded from the intensity of the heat in this part of the world.
When the pepper can finally be harvested, the peppercorns are removed from the stem, quickly boiled and then dried in the sun. The peppercorns that eventually become the black ones you may be accustomed to start out green on the vine and darken during the sun's nurturing drying process. If you have seen white peppercorns, these are black ones with the skin removed and less spicy than their black siblings. And if you leave the green peppercorns on the vine a few months longer than usual harvest, they turn red. This variety is slightly sweet and more expensive. I had seen different colored peppercorns but not understood how they came to be, nor the nuances of their taste. And tasting fresh green peppercorns straight off the vine was a delight for someone like me who relishes all connection to food in its native state. They were intensely spicy with a somewhat sweet aftertaste that lingered on my tongue all day. The lasting taste reminded me all day of the power of fresh pepper.
Imagine understanding someone you see everyday in a way that you had never imagined. That is what happened for me. I had no idea the labor and love it takes to grow good pepper. I had no idea how to appreciate the difference between pepper grown this way and mass production of pepper in ways similar to the difference between family farming and factory food production. Even something as simple as pepper has a story we need to hear. And now when I look at it on a restaurant table or in the kitchen, I think about its story and have so much gratitude for all the magic that allowed it to come to my table.
Knowing the story of your food can mean so many different things. It could mean visiting the farm where your meat or vegetables originate. Or it can be as simple as knowing what season the food you are eating is grown in. We have become so accustomed to shopping for food in artificial environments like grocery stores that we have lost our ability to even know when a certain food is seasonal. We can get any food anytime we want from any part of the world, right at our local corner store. That is contrived. It's not the real story.
Life is all about finding meaning but we are always focused on that meaning needing to be something grandiose. What if we could attest to finding meaning every day at our dinner table? What if we could find out the story of our food or just simply remind ourselves daily of the grandiosity of a story we have learned that plays itself out so humbly in front of us? Now, that is gratitude. That is how we connect to the world around us, by appreciating and respecting it.
There are ways to recognize beauty in the world all day and one of the most important is on your dinner table. Once we stop and acknowledge that we put into our bodies is so magical, we are apt to think of our experience as magical. And when we experience magic, we transform our day into something extraordinary.
The extraordinary lives in the ordinary. It arrives when we give our regular experience more attention and gratitude.
Transform your day into something bigger than it seems, every day, with your food. Have gratitude for what enters your body, for all of those who contributed to making it, to the elements of the universe that supported it from the wind to the sun and rain. We are all interconnected and each time we eat is an opportunity to celebrate that.
Know your food and you will better know yourself...