Food is Love

My friend Assim

I have a good friend, Assim, who is from Lebanon.  I met him on the street one day.  As we were passing each other I stopped and said, “Good morning. How are you?” My friends think I am crazy but I make a point of saying hi, or good morning, or something to everyone I pass on the street but that is a whole other story.

How Long must we Suffer?

Anyway, so we stopped to chat and he says to me, “How long do we need to suffer?” Well that stopped me in my tracks. I said, “I don’t know, I am not suffering, I am happy.”  He said, “Really, you are happy??? That is wonderful. What do you do …..”, and the conversation went on from there.  I discovered that he was from Lebanon, that he was homeless, he had diabetes, and that he lived at the Pine Street Inn.

 Anonymous

Well, that got me thinking about so many things.  Other people’s suffering, the feeling of anonymity, not having a kitchen, not having even a room.  I realized that I had walked by Pine Street so many times but had no idea what was inside. I had met many of the folks that lived there, remember, I talk to everyone on the street. I went home, and told my husband, Steven, this story, and he said, I should go in and find out.

Pine Street Inn

The next time I went to the Southend, I cooked up some lentils and bulgur and made a salad with tomatoes, parsley, cucumbers, onions, and olive oil and lemon juice to go over it.  I figured that Assim must be missing some of the food he grew up with.  I went into Pine Street the next day and walked up to the front desk.  I must  admit, I was intimidated.  There were a lot of scary and tough looking men milling around, and the folks behind the desk looked pretty tough too. I told the woman at the front desk that I was looking for a man named Assim and that I had some food for him. We got to talking, and I found out that she was vegetarian, worked 2 jobs (80 hours a week) and her name was Linda. I am waiting around as they are trying to track down Assim. I meet some other people who work there and they were all super nice and friendly and not tough at all.  I ended up leaving the food for Assim and some guest passes and yoga schedules for the staff and a promise to return with more food for all. This was a couple of months ago.

In Search of Falafel

I just got back from a trip to Pine Street and a visit with Assim.  This time I brought him vegan shepherds pie (recipe to follow!) We talked for an hour about all kinds of things. We realized that we both have a passion for good falafel. We talked about all the different places to get falafel in NYC, where we have both lived, and how hard it is to find in Boston. He says the Syrians and Armenians make the best.  He has been traveling all over Boston and beyond trying to find it. Turns out, at Pine Street, you get a bed and a locker.  It is not the kind of place that you want to hang out in all day so he spends his days riding the bus and train all over the place.  I also now know a bunch more of the staff and men that live there.

Staying Human

Why am I telling this story? I guess because I feel that I have gained as much if not more from my relationship with Assim as he has. I feel fuller some how. I feel like my perspective has changed slightly on what it means to be human. Albert Schweitzer said, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” I believe that a strong connection can be made between the way that we see other creatures and the way we see or don’t see other human beings.  We all want to be worthy of attention and love yes?

Food is Love

I will continue to cook vegan food and bring it over to my friends at Pine Street Inn.  You see, that is one of the ways that I show love, with food. We all have our talents and our passions. I love to cook for people. I know there are a million ways to make a difference in the world but why not chose one that you enjoy as well? The good news is that food from that area of the world is mostly vegan and really delicious. Next, I am going to make Baba Ghannouj, Muhammara, and maybe some home-made pita bread.

Any good recipes out there?  How about good falafel? Let me know!

Yogic Diet

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Food for Yogic Thought Food is not just fuel. What you put into your body affects how you feel, your overall health, energy, and longevity. The yogic diet has a holistic approach. Rather than separating components of food by calories and nutrients, the yogic perspective is of the diet as a whole. In general, you […]

What I am reading

I am always reading at least two books; one fiction and one non-fiction. This usually translates to one about a serious topic and one somewhat trashy mystery. On the serious side, I just picked up, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, by Melanie Joy, Ph.D. I had heard her interviewed recently and thought her book sounded interesting. I too am a student of psychology (certainly not a Ph.D.). I am fascinated by why people do what they do.
Here is a piece I found intriguing;
“We don’t see meat eating as we do vegetarianism–as a choice, based on a set of assumptions about animals, our world and ourselves. Rather, we see it as a given, the “natural” thing to do. We eat animals without thinking about what we are doing and why because the belief system that underlies this behavior is invisible. This invisible belief system is what I call carnism.”

This strikes home for me because I am treated like some emotional naive person for choosing to not eat animals. It is not seen as a reasonable nor intelligent argument, yet eating animals is. I am interested in learning more about the psychology behind this because I believe that this doesn’t just give insight into meat eating but into many other societal behaviors. Even more interesting is the parallels with yogic philosophy.

Ms. Joy talks about something called “psychic numbing”.(Ironically, I just ran to the kitchen for a shot of tequila. Apparently, I am in need of a bit of psychic numbing myself). Okay, where was I? Oh yes, She says, “psychic numbing is made up of a complex array of defenses”. She then goes on to list them and they are strikingly similar to what is called avidya in yoga. Avidya clouds the mind. Yoga practice is helpful in clearing avidya.

Tequila, Psychic Numbing, and Avidya
So that is where I am at, pondering these three things. I think it might be time for me to turn to my trashy mystery in case I am getting too deep.

Full disclosure

I am reintroducing my other blog called O2vegan. Can you guess what it is about? When I was a nutrition counselor,I was paid to tell people what to eat. When I was a personal trainer, I was expected and paid to tell people what exercises to do. Now, I am a yoga teacher, yoga teacher trainer, and studio owner. I moved away from my previous jobs because I didn’t like being held responsible for people’s health. In fact, I believe that no one can tell you what you should or should not do. That is your job. However, I think my job is to empower people with knowledge about all things yoga. I love to think and write and talk about yoga, yogic philosophy, yogic diet, food in general. To me, food is love. Love is very much part of the yogic path. When I teach yoga and especially when I teach yoga teacher training I would be remiss if I only taught the asanas. There is so much more to the yogic lifestyle.

So why not just have o2vegan be part of the O2 blog? Ahh, now we are getting to something interesting. Because diet is a very touchy subject for people. It is okay for me to say, “breath”, or “turn your toes to 90 degrees”, but it becomes a different story if I say, “this is what you should eat”. We all have different relationships to food. I am passionate about food because it is a choice that we make many times a day. Yoga is about paying attention and I believe strongly that we all need to pay more attention to how we treat each other, the world, and other beings. Is there only one way to do that? Of course not. However, I believe that being joyful is infectious. I love vegan cooking and want to share it with whomever is interested! Does that mean you must become vegan to be a yogi? Again, of course not.

Ten years ago, I broke up with a man who I almost married. I was devastated at the time. Soon after, I met the man who would become my husband. My ex was a vegetarian, and after some much needed space from him, I discovered him to also be not very nice. My now husband, Steven, was of all things, gasp, a carnivore! However, he was and still is one of the kindest, most thoughtful people on the planet. He is now a vegetarian, which is lovely, but the point is, you can’t judge a person by what they eat, or their political party (that one is a struggle sometimes!), or what car they drive. It takes more than that. It takes patience. It takes paying attention. It takes courage.

That said, I am passionate about the vegan diet and it’s benefits to the planet, to the animals, and to human health and consciousness. It’s my thing. If you are interested, check out my blog. If not, thats cool too. I will keep talking about it and cooking for anyone who will let me. To me, this is not about shoulds, this is about possibilities, joyfulness, love, and yumminess.

The Rennet Firestorm

This summer, my kids and I and our good friend Griffin, he’s 14, were at a party at a friend’s house. All the kids were hanging out around the campfire. Someone brought out some marshmallows to roast. Dylan and Griffin started to kind of lecture the kids on why they shouldn’t eat marshmallows. Why, you ask? Because they have gelatin(http://www.buzzle.com/articles/gelatin-ingredients.html) in them. After the party we started to talk about this. The issue, I think was really about hidden animal products in food but also about how to educate people about them.

Does lecturing work?
Oh boy, have we had many discussions and probably arguments about this issue in our house. In the case of the marshmallows, the boys were saying things like, “gross, do you know what is in that?”. And, “I can’t believe you eat gelatin. Don’t you know what gelatin is?”, “it’s boiled up animal hooves!”. What do you think happened?The other kids just went on eating their marshmallows.

The ripple effect
Strangely enough, it might not have gotten the target audience thinking but it sure got me thinking. A few days later, we were on our way to an Un-school conference, me, Griffin, Xoey(Griffin’s 13 year old sister), and my sons Dylan and Deven, 9 and 7 years old. We got on the topic of lecturing gelatin eaters. I said, well, you guys eat cheese right? They said, yeah, we love cheese but it’s vegetarian! Nope, I said, most cheese has rennet in it(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/). Rennet is a coagulant used to make most hard cheeses. Most rennet comes from the lining of a calves stomach. Yuck.

Research
This conversation has encouraged many more, and lots of research on the internet about what is in our food. The boys have also taken to asking in restaurants what kind of cheese they use and then looking it up to find out if that company uses rennet or not. We now know that many big North American cheese makers like Cabot, use vegetarian rennet. That is the good news. The bad news is that these guys are usually big factory farms who are trying to keep their costs down. I guess veal calves’ stomachs are more expensive. Of course, personally, I have a very simple solution, don’t eat cheese at all! It seems obvious to me as a vegan of 3 years. However, I knew about rennet, I knew about the connection of the dairy and meat industry, especially the veal industry for years, but I still ate dairy and eggs.

Kids can change the world
When I was a kid, I wasn’t thinking about rennet and gelatin and politics as these kids do. I wasn’t thinking about much at all. Not that these kids are not having a great time and enjoying life. Quite the opposite, being home-schooled gives them a lot more time to do other things like having interesting discussions about food, life and the world we live in.