50 about 50: On Food

If you have been reading this blog, or following me on Facebook, you have to know that I will be turning 50 at the end of this month. While I have made it a point to celebrate and enjoy my birthdays the past few years, I am not typically one to navel-gaze about each passing year (oh, I navel-gaze with the best of them, just not about that, generally speaking!). However, 50 feels different, in many ways. I can’t help thinking it is still too young to be the gateway to old age, but there is no denying that it is likely to be the metaphorical entrance into the second act of my life. In plays, the first act is usually longer than the second, and youth seems endless. Act I is followed by an intermission, kind of a rest period, which might be an apt description for your late 40s. Not quite your youth, but also not quite your elder years. Then: curtains up, Act II.

As I approach my birthday, I am taking-stock, thinking carefully about my life thus far and about the life I hope to live in the coming years. As a result, each Thursday blog post in July will be part of my “50 about 50” list. It won’t be a continuous list, but several lists. I have given thought as to how to organize these lists, how to share the discoveries I have made along the way, the seredipitous moments and the surprises that have contributed to who I am and what I value today. There are only 4 Thursdays in July, so one post will include a bonus list! To get started:

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Food

1.  Your tastes change over the course of a lifetime.

Ok, I’ve never been a picky eater, ask anyone. However, for many years of my life I lived without the joy of avocados. I tried them as a youngster, and did not care for them. By the time I got around to trying them again, they tasted like ambrosia. And that’s just the tip of the asparagus spear – there are many other foods that I have come to enjoy over time that I did not care for earlier in my life. It pays to be open to trying again. And sometimes again.

2.  What we know about foods and their nutritional value and physiological effects changes periodically.

So don’t completely give up anything you enjoy based on a current news report. Moderation in everything, as my former roommate Michelle Fouts was fond of saying.

3.  Food is a social justice issue.

For most of my life, I never thought about this. But even a few statistics can change your view on this if you really take them in. For example, in the U.S. in 2009, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (21.3 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.6 percent) or single men (27.8 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.9 percent) and Hispanic households (26.9 percent). In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone (884,000 households) were food insecure. (Statistics courtesy of Feeding America) And it goes deeper than the number of people who experience hunger. The social justice issues surrounding food also include issues related to obesity, alarming increases in diabetes, the unequal access to healthy, fresh food experienced by those in economically disadvantaged communities.

4. “Food addiction” as a term is an oxymoron.

We are all addicted to food. Can’t live without it. Figuring out how to live WITH it is the important thing!

5. Oatmeal is my delicious friend.

My folks weren’t oatmeal eaters. The first time I was served oatmeal was at Camp Little Cloud when I was approximately 9. It was a gelatinous pile of what tasted like salty paste. No way! This morning, I had instant oatmeal, maple flavored, with one tablespoon of creamy, all natural peanut butter. The first spoonful elicited an audible sound of delight from deep in my throat. Almost a purr really. In the past four years, I’ve made up for the dearth of oatmeal in my early life by eating it multiple times each week. It never lets me down. When Starbucks started selling oatmeal, and fittingly named theirs “Perfect Oatmeal”, it was a happy day in Jen-land.

5. Food is a sustainability concern.

Locavore. Organic. Community Supported Agriculture. Slow Food Movement. We’ve all heard these words. It is impossible to maintain a laissez-faire stance once one begins to educate oneself about the issues. Read Michael Pollan, watch a couple of the excellent documentary films that have been produced, attend your local farmer’s market. It isn’t even difficult anymore (for those of us lucky enough to have the resources) to become aware of and begin to change our choices in accordance with a more loving stance toward our earth. I have only taken a few tentative steps, but hope to continue further down this path.

6. Not enough poetry has been written about kale.

Or really, about any of the lesser greens, root vegetables, or legumes that middle-America gave up on in favor of Chef Boyardee and Hot Pockets. Discovering these oldies but goodies has totally enriched my diet. They may not be the most beautiful, but they are arguably some of the most soulful foods going.

8. Food can, and in my opinion should, be a total sensual experience.

Mike and I made dinner one night over the Memorial Day weekend. He asked me how I managed, with such delicious leftovers in the house, to avoid bingeing on them until they were gone. I took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh scents of ginger,thyme, hand-grated nutmeg and toasted coconut flakes. I looked at the profusion of bright colors in the salad bowl and on our plates. I thought about the variety of textures in the food we were about to eat. And the answer was easy – when your food satisfies all your senses, it also satifies your hunger at a very deep level. Whenever possible, meals should be sensually fulfilling experiences. There’s no need to overeat or binge when every sense is replete.

9. Cooking for (or with) and feeding loved ones is one of life’s greatest joys.

Unless you have to do it every day. In which case it is a drudgery. I discovered the joy part back in the late 80s when I first learned to bake bread. My two roommates, the Michelles, would come home and immediately devour the first loaf while I enjoyed their delight. It continues to be one of my favorite ways to express my love for others. The drudgery part, I’ve heard from nearly every mother/wife I know.

10. I like food. Food’s my favorite.

Enough said.

…Changing the Dream (part 2 of 2)

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–MLK Jr.

 

When I was in graduate school, we used a visualization activity called “The Perfect Future Day Fantasy”, in which we were to imagine ourselves waking up on a “perfect” weekday 10 years into our future. I specifically remember processing this activity with a group of fellow students, when one friend said that, in his perfect day, he was presiding over negotiations to reunify Germany. We all laughed at him, saying “As if…that will never happen.” That was 1987. By the end of 1990, German reunification was a reality.

In the “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” symposium, the module which discusses “What is possible for the future”, asks us to shift our perspective from what is probable to what is possible. We live in a cynical world (did I really just quote Jerry McGuire?!). A world in which many of us look at the enormous issues confronting us and decide they are so over-arching, so all-encompassing, that we can do nothing…and we therefore continue in our comfortable dream world.

And yet. Apartheid ended. Change is sweeping through the Middle East. Millions of people the world over are participating in organizations and movements to make justice, sustainability, spiritual fulfillment real in the world in new and creative ways. Just a few who have inspired me: Emmanuel Jal, Curt Ellis and Food Corps, Annie Leonard, and so many others. Each of these individuals has taken their unique talents and skills and employed them in service to justice and creating a different dream for the world. And I am heartened to know there are millions of others, whose names and faces I may never know, but whose voices are represented by an activist in the symposium video module who says, “We didn’t believe we could change anything, but we did it anyway.”

Inspiration is important. It needs to translate into action in order for me to be part of co-creating a new dream for our world (a universal Perfect Future Day Fantasy!). But what can I do? I’ve thought about this long and hard in the week since attending the symposium. First, I can talk – that’s something I’m good at! – and write about what is in my heart. Second, I can start with the environments I am already a part of. For example, on Thursday, the symposium attendees from my university met for lunch to discuss an action plan to bring the symposium, and active outgrowths from it, to our campus community. I can evaluate the corporations with which I do business, and make a conscious effort to support those who use a “triple bottom line – people, planet, profit”. Because food and hunger are issues which are already important to me, I can recommit myself to work on these with my time, talents, and treasure.

It would be overwhelming if we looked at all that needs to be done and thought that we, personally, needed to do it all. Heck, even thinking that we need to do something big, make one grand gesture, is an overwhelming idea. What I am discovering, though, is that each of us has within us the ability to make a difference. If we stop thinking it needs to be a difference that the whole world will see and recognize, and instead think of it as a difference that changes our hearts and touches at least one other, it becomes much less daunting. Do I really think that will change where the earth is headed? You bet I do. And I am far from alone in that:

“It is a moral universe despite all appearances to the contrary.”

–Desmond Tutu

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit.”

–Wilma Rudolph



Awakening The Dreamer…(part 1 of 2)

“I don’t think an authentic stand comes from your head. I think an authentic stand comes from your heart.” Van Jones

A couple of weeks ago, I flew with friends to Vegas for a long weekend. It was fun, but while we were there, our conversation returned several times to the artificiality of the environment. Vegas is about the least authentic place on earth. I remember one comment about the waste of both water and electricity in that city in the desert. But, like the hundreds of thousands of others there for St. Patrick’s Day (or March Madness or Spring Break), we were there to have fun. We didn’t dwell on anything as deep as what it meant to participate in the inauthenticity and waste that are the hallmarks of the Las Vegas experience. We were there to conspicuously consume, gamble, eat and gawk – not to think too much.

And so our three days in Vegas passed in an almost trance-like state. We ate when we felt like it, we drank when we felt like it, we slept as little as possible no matter what we felt like. Most of the time, I had no idea what time of day it was, nor did I track what I was spending. I was awake and moving, but a large part of me was asleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, to Saturday, April 2. 9:00 a.m. found me seated in a conference room, holding my Starbuck’s venti Americano in the iconic paper cup, ready for a symposium I was attending for work. The truth is, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I hadn’t really paid attention to what the symposium was about other than a vague idea that is was related to sustainability. I also was not thrilled to be spending another Saturday at a work-related event.

Five minutes into the symposium, I was crying. It would be difficult for me to tease apart the complex threads of emotion the symposium evoked, but it was comprised of shame, grief, fear, pain. In one of the symposium’s video modules, Joanna Macy says not to be afraid to feel the pain associated with what we are learning. She says we need to feel the pain, and follow it to what it springs from – which is love. Love of this earth, love of our fellow humans, love of our fellow inhabitants of the planet.

The name of the powerful symposium, “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream”, is now etched on my memory. As is the goal of the alliance who created it: “Bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet.” What resonates with me about this particular take on our environmental future is, first, the direct line of connection drawn between the environment, spirit and social justice. Second, the hopeful stance taken that we can, indeed, change the trajectory we are currently moving along.

“Awakening the dreamer” speaks to the idea that most of us in wealthy, privileged societies, are living in a kind of trance or dream which allows us to “not know” that our choices, our consumption, our distraction have real and damaging consequences in the world. The video modules tell a powerful story of this dream world we’re living in, and it rings true. My friends and I experienced it in a palpable way in Vegas, where it was so exaggerated that it actually impinged on our consciousness (most days in our normal routines, we never even notice we are living in a dream).

And here’s the thing: I think many of us have, for a while, been on the verge of waking up. You know, like those times when you are lying in bed and start to wake up, maybe you even crack your eyes open — only to quickly tell yourself to just close them again and you’ll get back to sleep. I’ve peeked at this world and quickly closed my eyes again because it is so much easier to stay asleep. I don’t have to recycle. I don’t have to make my own coffee or argue with the barrista to put it in my reusable mug. As long as I can continue to “not know”, I can enjoy the lights on the Vegas strip without thinking about the Navajo people living at Black Mesa.

But how authentic or just or spiritually fulfilling is that? Maybe we should just take a deep breath and open our eyes.

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

— Joanna Macy