On his current American tour, His Holiness the Karmapa has been speaking at the most elite universities and high tech campuses, preaching his gospel of compassion for each other, for all sentient beings and for the Earth our mother. Most recently, at Harvard, he called out apathy: "The most dangerous thing in the world is apathy... I urge you to feel a love that is courageous --not like a heavy burden, but a joyous acknowledgement of interdependence."
Well, I urge you to start where it's easy to find love: the kitchen, hotbed of apathy yet seedbed of joy (think yummy meal shared with friends or family). We have to start there because eating comes so naturally, so instinctively, we take it for granted. Maybe we've learned to be mindful of the words coming out of our mouth, but what about the stuff going into it? Yes we're waking to seasonal, local and independent farmers but that's only the tip. We are totally blind when it comes to seeing the bigger picture.
So the kitchen is a great place to open eyes and minds--and mouths, to create positive change: in our health, our attitude, our world. Food love doesn't even require that much courage. The only ingredient we need is focus--and it doesn't cost money.
Let's start with the fact that nobody can solo in the kitchen or be alone at the table. The whole world is in the act. Recipes come down from grandmothers or theirs. Yogurt came from nomads who lived more than 3,000 years ago. Carrots came from farmers in Afghanistan, potatoes from the Incas of Peru and ketchup was cloned from a Cantonese sauce. How about the dairy farmer who milked which cow to create that carton of yogurt? How about whoever scooped up the olives that made the oil or who offloaded it at a U.S. port? They are all part of the entree going into you. Ramped up awareness of the back and forth of the food we personally process is the fast track to seeing how interdependent we all are. Venerable Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a whole book about just this, starting with the sun ray that hits the soil that someone tilled.
Wake-up alarms now ring faster and louder than ever. Just read last week's headlines. Burmese workers kept as slaves in Indonesia's export fish industry. Mexicans denied even beds and toilets while harvesting all those cheap fruits and vegetables in your supermarket. One fifth of California's dangerously disappearing water supply still going to raise alfalfa to feed beef cattle for your burger. Amy's Kitchen, a supposedly organic processed food purveyor now owned by giant General Mills, recalled thousands of its products fearing listeria has contaminated them. And finally, scientists not on Monsanto's payroll link Roundup to cancer and fertility issues. Earlier an MIT scientist linked it to all the trouble people seem to be having with wheat gluten because the entire industrial US wheat crop is doused with Roundup two weeks before it is harvested, so you're getting a whopping dose of glysophate when you eat commercially baked bread.
So it comes to this: cheap, convenient, carefree or conscious, compassionate and, ok, to use today's favorite term, frictionless or efficient. Everything we eat comes from somewhere starting with soil and solar energy, ending with human hands running on food fuel and combustion engines running on fuel that comes out of the Earth. So diet choices change everything. We vote every time we open our mouth to eat, every time we toss something into our shopping cart or garbage can, every time we pay at the chosen checkout, every time we willingly go to a farmers' market and pay extra pennies to know who actually gave us our daily bread, every time we decide to skip the beef and order polenta. Buying out of season imported fruits and fish just because you feel like having summer cheap peaches in January is support for the most abominable slavery of others. Constantly eating meat supports ripping down the last forests, ripping out the oxygen supply and ripping up the great rivers.
We change the world every time we eat. We can choose not to feed on out of season imports, but rather to wait for tomatoes and blueberries until locally in season, to eat spaghetti with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables instead of steak, to buy in bulk instead of chemically toxic cans, to choose hearty lentil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches over chicken salad. We can have the courage to stop being apathetic and acquiesce to our convenience addiction by making our own meals instead of letting some mega corporation feed us to its bottom line. And when we stop letting our egos be fed by all those enticements on bottled water, a profit stream sucking real streams dry.
It's not that hard to wake up to what's going into our mouth instead of sleep walking through meals as though they don't matter. We just need the courage to think focusing on our eating habits as worth our time as, say, Game of Thrones or March madness or malling or other trumped up diversions.
I suppose it also means coming to grips with the suspicion that we just can't have it all--all the time. That's a pretty big deal. Being limited really takes courage. Are you okay with that? His Holiness is. He prescribed limits for himself when he became a committed vegetarian.
I recently met a middle aged couple trying to meet their daughter's challenge to live trash free. It's not that hard, they said, when you make the effort to think about what you're doing. They buy in bulk or fresh from a farm. They get milk in returnable glass bottles instead of waxed cartons and buy nothing in clamshell packaging. They were quite pleased with this accomplishment.
Of course I'd like to tell you I've got this down pat; His Holiness would be proud of me. But that's a ha ha, in my dreams. I am so the Kleenex queen that when I die, people are going to find half used tissues in every pocket and purse I own. Also, I am not about to give up toilet paper any time soon. But I am trying in my way. I do not buy imported out of season produce, imported or farmed fish, packaged eats except for an occasional can of soup to open at midnight when I return from a trip. I am a 30 year farmers' market veteran. I struggle to be creative enough not to generate garbage from vegetables and fruits, not to waste food in any way, and even though I still do a bit, it's less than before. This is en-couraging.
I don't patronize restaurants that present food as entertainment or status. I don't go to burger joints or steakhouses anymore. I came from a family that ate meat twice a day, but I don't eat much now. I didn't go cold turkey. I just stopped eating slabs I have to "butcher at the table", as Asian people say of Americans. A few meals a week, I throw snippets in to flavor a dish. Yes, it is harder to think up a meal when I can't just "throw a burger on the fire" or eat a roast chicken for three days. Frankly sometimes it's a real pain. I get tempted. You have no idea of the tug of war in my mind in markets some days when I cruise the meat counter and feel longing. But I can make a clean get away. Thanks to the world's plethora of tasty traditions of vegetarian cooking, I manage (pasta e fagioli, anyone?). According to all the latest tests, my health is perfect.
His Holiness' idea of compassion is no meat eating, littering or environmental degradation. It's awareness over apathy, consciousness of where things come from and where they go and how we direct that traffic because, as he says, everything is interconnected. The kitchen is a great place to understand that just as a meal is a joyful way to acknowledge it. If no longer eating a rib-eye with my Caesar is a burden, I am learning to grin and bear it. I think this is what His Holiness means.
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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