What I put in my mouth and engage with my mind establish well being.
Growing up, Sundays mostly meant extended family meals with relatives in Brooklyn or our Long Island home. Dinners began at two with provolone, roasted peppers and fried artichoke hearts. Then richly sauced al dente rigatoni, meatballs and sausage were passed around the linen clothed table. Cousins and I savored juicy leg of lamb, garlic tossed string beans and lemon baked potatoes until forks clanked on empty plates. To make room for dessert, we’d carry dishes to the sink, spoon leftovers into containers and nap or play Gin Rummy. Eating was a festival of togetherness.
Food was love.
By mid-meal, my belly pressed on my pants waist and I’d unsnap the band. After pastries, my brain swirled in a sugar daze. More than a Sunday event, this blood sugar roller coaster became a daily ride. Mom, however, strictly rationed desserts during the week. So, I’d sneak to the basement to forage on Edelman’s coffee cake stashed in the freezer for guests. As Aunt Mamie said, sweets call, “Come‘a to me.”’ But,
What we consume becomes our make-up.
And our bodies grew imbalanced. Sunday conversations soon centered on my aunts’ blood pressure levels and cholesterol pills. Mid-week meals closed with Mom’s mantra, “Now what can I eat?”
We were well fed but malnourished.
This was true of our soul life, too. Weekday evenings after the table was cleared and homework finished, my brother, sister and I scrambled to spots on the rug or between our folks in bed to watch TV. Night at the Movies features were favorites. Cozying up with my pillow, blanket and dear ones, I devoured Robert Redford eying down a crooked scoundrel and Jane Fonda protesting mismanaged government. Nightly, solitary heroes and heroines struggled and overcame evil. Filled with inspiration, I’d snuggle to sleep dreaming of becoming a courageous soul bringing light to the world.
What we dwell upon becomes our mindset.
As a teen, however, I began feeling empty after watching the movies. I noticed characters’ gestures and words occupying my mind. I sensed subtle promptings to be like them. Longing to be myself, engaged with others near me, I thought evenings better spent playing games, making crafts or reading a book aloud with my family. But no one budged from the television set. Engrossed in absorbing storylines, they let me do as I pleased. And I was left to choose between going off alone and being nourished or staying amidst loved ones, hollow.
Many a night I ventured into the dark house away from the glow of the TV screen to sit and read or sew. I’d pull books from dad’s shelves and ingest philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. I’d practice stitches Aunt Nini taught me and design a pocketbook. My thoughts settled, insights flowed and I’d slip to sleep in solace. But at times, I felt afraid of being on my own in a world apart.
Yet, I continued exploring. Grappling with ups and downs in energy, I was elated to discover the only health food store in town and the satisfaction of eating whole grain bread. Its density and texture fascinated me, accustomed to limp white bread. I felt fed for the first time. I became an alchemist, experimenting with sea salt and cane sugar, steaming fresh peas and carrots rather than eating mom’s canned goods. My food cravings vanished.
I soon parted ways with my family’s diet, adopting an earthier fare. Not a soul touched my dark crusted pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving except Aunt Connie. My dishes were foreign and suspect.
It was at the health food store I first saw Edith. Blue eyes sparkled beneath gray bangs. Braids dangling on her Indian embroidered shirt — she was natural. We became fast friends. I marveled at her simple home, garnishing the original pink tiled 50’s bathroom, not remodeled as most Long Island homes. Her time and energy went into enriching endeavors, like teaching yoga and folk dance classes in her basement.
Edith was a refuge of authenticity with whom my soul feasted. She was my first Long Island friend whose sustenance veered from the culture’s standard fare.
What our mind consumes becomes the lens through which we conceive.
Before long, I rented an apartment 15 minutes from Edith and my folks, in Huntington. There, I walked or biked to town. I gave away my TV, carefully choosing what news I read or listened to and what music and literature I took in. I devoured folk concerts at the Huntington Folk Society and in the park down the street. I delighted in swirling contradances with live fiddle and flute music in a hidden wooden barn.
I engaged with people in real experiences which fed me.
Over the years, I’ve converted from buying organic avocados shipped from Mexico, to locally grown bananas brought to the farmer’s market, to picking guavas in my yard.
I’ve stretched from attending dollar movies to live concerts and community dances to hosting salons and craft nights at home.
I’ve discovered new facets of local fare.
Now more than ever, we can consume stories, words, and images, through digital media, nonstop, coming from who knows where. Random sequences of Bart Simpson, “Just Do It!”, and juicy burgers on buns stream from screens to our minds. I wonder how kids today navigate such cacophony. I’m saddened by their scanty dealings with ants, clovers and creeks. They grow up deprived of watching tadpoles, listening to crickets and climbing oaks to garner life’s ways.
Lack of contact with the real world creates soul hunger.
I’ve found great solace in stepping barefoot on the damp soil each morning to gather collards, strawberries, and spearmint. Using a biodynamic calendar, I plant seeds and harvest vegetables when cosmic energies are beneficial. Wholesomeness sings in my belly – vitality is nourishing.
Earth’s life forces become our own.
Tomato plants that I’ve not sown sprouting in my yard convey life’s give and take from unseen sources. Banana and papaya trees feeding on compost show me no accomplishment is made alone. Each nourished by earth and sky adds its part to creation.
There are no lone heroes or heroines saving us all.
We each have access to nature and spirit. Cable and cost aren’t needed to tune in. Abundantly, unprocessed food for our bodies and souls is present.