Asking Bigger Questions
I get all kinds of great questions when I lead cooking classes, and recently I was struck by one particular question and what it means when it comes to our relationship with food, and more importantly what it means in how we relate with ourselves.
This question came when I was teaching a group how to make cultured cashew cheese, a tasty, healthy plant-based alternative to dairy cheese. I was asked if I knew what the calorie comparison was between the cashew cheese I was demonstrating and traditional dairy cheese. I had no clue, as calorie count is not something that ever enters my awareness.
While a calorie is simply a unit of energy and is neither good nor bad, the beliefs most people carry about calories means we assign values of good or bad to food that contains this energy. Often when the calorie count is low, we deem it to be a good choice, and when food has a high-calorie count we deem it to be a bad choice.
While I don’t spend time thinking about calories, I respect that the vast majority of people in western culture do. I know that it’s not just calories they think about, it’s what they perceive to be the impact of those calories on their bodies that they focus on. More simply, it’s about weight loss and weight gain. The weight of our bodies has become a full-time obsession and a highly profitable industry on this planet. Body shape (based on external ideals) has become the focus, while the health and vitality of our bodies and our world have become secondary considerations.
For me, the question about calories was not a bad question, it just felt like it wasn’t a big enough question. Life gets interesting, and expansive when we start asking bigger questions. The bigger questions I perceive as being applicable include the following. What is the impact on my body when I choose cashew cheese over dairy cheese? Who do I become when I make the plant-based choice? Who else is impacted by my choice?
Answers to those bigger questions are what has captured my attention for many years. I have studied nutrition and the body, as well as the impacts of food choices on animals and the planet, and I have looked at food choices as metaphors in relation to personal evolution. What I know is that cashew cheese requires no animal breeding, suffering or death, and it requires far fewer planetary resources like space to grow crops for cows and water to sustain those crops and cows. It contributes only a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions required in the production of the dairy version. Cashew cheese is nutrient-dense, full of healthy plant fats and protein, minerals, vitamins and it contains no cholesterol or animal fats like those found in dairy products which are proven to create inflammation, pain, disease and death in the human body.
When we overlook these bigger explorations and play small by thinking only about calories (weight loss/weight gain) we set limits on what we can or cannot enjoy, and employ a ‘getting away with’ strategy. In other words, how much of this can I get away with stuffing into my body before I go over an arbitrarily set number of calories that I believe is my daily maximum? This way of moving through the world means I am buying into the opinion of someone outside of myself (doctors, dieticians, an app on my phone). It also means I am giving away my intimate connection with the signals of my own body and my heart in favour of an external voice.
This way of moving through the world keeps us in a constant state of scarcity. The human body requires fuel, and lots of it. We get 3-4 chances every day to check in on whether we are listening internally to our own signals, or externally to the monotonous hum of culture. Are we honouring our bodies and our integrity, or are we honouring our cultural conditioning?
Clearly, our approach to feeding ourselves is not working. The number of obese adults in western society continues to rise year after year and is now an epidemic, while the number of obese children has reached dizzying new heights. Animal agriculture remains the dominant food system, perpetuating this obesity crisis. On top of that, this system is a well known cause of global warming emissions and ecological destruction. The insanity doesn’t end there, however, three billion living beings are killed every single day on this planet for human consumption.
What would our bodies and world look like if instead of worrying about calorie density we started talking about nutrient density, greenhouse gas emission density, ecosystem destruction density, and animal suffering density?
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what you are actually doing when your fork crosses the threshold of your lips? Are you doing everything you can to maximize the nourishment of the exquisite, hard-working systems of your body? Are you intentionally bathing your cells, your bones, your muscles and your brain with the things they crave the most? In other words, are you cherishing yourself by adding in units of energy that match the magnificence of your essential being, or are you just blindly responding to hunger with habituated patterns of pleasure-seeking?
Cherishing our bodies and recognizing the wonder that they offer us can break the spell of habituation. The requirement is simply self-intimacy or reconnection to self. I say reconnection because we were born connected, and our world has done everything it could along the way to break that connection and turn us into rabid and mindless consumers.
My belief about it is that veganism is an expression of self-intimacy, conveyed through food choices.
It’s the looking away from ourselves that holds us hostage to a life where our bodies and our world do not match that which lives deep within. A lack of self-intimacy means we can make mindless choices ranging from ill-advised, to violent. It doesn’t matter if we are committing the violence or asking others to do it for us. We can make these choices over and over and over again until they become habituated and we don’t stand a chance of ever feeling the immensity of their compound effect.
We are accustomed to being spoon-fed, and we pay the big price of self-betrayal for this service. This internal abandonment has massive repercussions for our bodies in the form of discomfort and disease, and in the world outside of us in the form of animal suffering and planetary ecocide. Finding our way to self-intimacy creates space for trust in self to emerge. It’s about allowing the full expression of who and what we are to materialize without limits. This evolution of self is jagged, and requires big bites. A spoon is simply not enough, especially if the spoon is firmly planted in someone else’s hand.
With self-intimacy in place, we can easily walk away from cultural norms and create our own abundant lives. There is no one path (or recipe) that can be shared to create a shift towards self-intimacy, and I know that this shift can only occur when our thinking moves from the external world to the internal world. When we no longer focus on meeting the world at the level of cultural standards, and instead come home to who and what we truly are. An abundant internal world means inner cues dominate, cultural conditioning and norms do not. An abundant internal world creates a rich living experience where it’s no longer necessary to rob the living planet or other living beings of their richness in order to supplement our own.