Friday, February 8, 2013

YU30: One Week In

On another day, I'll write about what a meditative exercise it was for me to spell this out with the following, from left to right: black beans; mung beans; polenta; raw almonds; raw pumpkin seeds; red and white quinoa; and raw sunflower seeds.
Last week, on a whim (which is how I make many decisions, for better or worse), I decided to take up the Yum Universe 30-day challenge. Yum Universe is this fantastic* website that serves as a resource for cultivating a plant based diet--that's diet as in "what a species eats", not diet as in, "what you eat to lose weight".  Between February 1 and March 3, I and many others around the interwebs, are eating a gluten-free, plant-based, whole-foods diet. I'm documenting, journaling, reflecting, FBing, Tweeting and thinking about a gluten-free, plant-based lifestyle.

So if you know me, you know that this is pretty much how I eat all the time. I've been gluten-free since 2009 and have been a vegetarian/vegan for over four years (minus a small and dyspeptic foray back into meat eating for a year and a half). So in and of itself, eating gluten-free plant-based wasn't too extreme for me; it was Tuesday.

But I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the other ways I've been challenged by YU30. I've been a lot more thoughtful about how I eat. It's been entirely too easy for me in the last six months, to plunk down in front of the computer/TV/space phone with my breakfast, lunch or dinner and barely be conscious of what I'm eating. There's work to read, there's posts and articles to read and write, I'm late and I don't have enough time, whatever. This challenge has been a great chance for me to slow down and know what I'm eating, not just to inhale it.
This is portobello red pepper macaroni, the recipe for which you can find, that's right at
I watched Forks Over Knives and Hungry for Change a while ago, and remember one of the experts talking about how much people spend time thinking about what they eat and how when you clean your diet out, you don't have to wrestle with those decisions. I don't know about that. I think about food, but it's mostly when I'm in a place where I can't control (or don't know) what's being served, and I might have to fend for myself. I don't like those places so much, and I pack myself something when I can. I performed the other night at a great event, and there was a beautiful spread there--sushi, deli tray, crudites, insane-looking desserts--and I ate the salad I'd brought with me. I was happy to do so, don't get me wrong. When I can take care of myself, rather than relying on others, I feel great and don't worry at all because I know what I'm putting into my body. It's only when social events revolve around food that can't accommodate me that I get twitchy.

My point is, I spend some time thinking about food. Not deciding, not using up my willpower, not counting calories or watching my weight (I can't remember the last time I stepped on a scale), just thinking about it. I think that might be okay. I've been thinking about where my food comes from, about how to get it to my home in an environmentally responsible way, about how to prepare it so that it maintains the most nutritional integrity and tastes f-ing awesome. A week into this 30-day challenge, I find myself not just shoveling food into my mouth that I know is plant-based and gluten-free, but really thinking about the food. Caring for it. Expressing gratitude to the sun and the dirt and the water and the time that helped create it. Expressing gratitude for the recipe that helped me turn it into an amazing plate of love, and expressing self-gratitude for taking the time to care enough about myself (and my loved ones) to prepare food that is nourishing.

There's a section in The Miracle of Mindfulness where Thich Nhat Hanh is with a friend who is eating a tangerine. His friend is so engrossed in his conversation that he pops section after section into this mouth completely unconsciously until Hanh says to him, "You ought to eat the tangerine section you've already taken."

"A tangerine has sections", he writes. "If you eat just one section, you can probably eat the entire tangerine. But if you can't eat a single section, you cannot eat the tangerine. Jim understood. He slowly put his hand down and focused on the presence of the slice already in his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully before reaching down and taking another section."

So many times I have not eaten a meal because I never tasted the first bite. Mindful doesn't mean thoughtful, right? It doesn't mean brainful, or full of ideas or research. It means entirely present with; not only is my veganism a journey toward a rediscovery of my own body, a means of connecting to my culture, an affirmation of my nonviolence with animals and with the planet, but in the last week, it's become an opportunity for me to be present with my food in its preparation and consumption. Eating becomes almost ritualistic at times like these, full of joy and loveliness.

I have a friend coming for dinner tonight, and I'm preparing something I found on the YU website. If any of the other dishes are indicative, we're going to eat really well. Not only that, we'll put our senses and our minds and our hearts into the experience because I'm cultivating that kind of attitude about what's on my plate and how it got there.

*When I say fantastic, I mean it. Heather Crosby runs a gorgeous, high-capacity resource website for plant-based eaters and those who are interested. Candidly, I'd love to see more diversity on the website--racial, socio-economic--and it may be that it's already there, and I just haven't discovered it yet. I'm very new, and there's a lot for me to learn. But sometimes I feel the pinch of the vegan rhetoric/sandbox in our (American) pop culture being owned by the white middle class. For those of us coming at this lifestyle with a minority-culture lens on, there's not a lot of mirroring going on. BUT, having said this, I've been so GRATEFUL for YU and the YU Facebook community, which is INCREDIBLY diverse, for being so generous with their resources and so supportive with their encouragement and affection.

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