Flickr photo by Zitona

In my second year of college, I took a yoga class. I had been practicing Hatha yoga on my own since I was 15 as a means of taming my teenaged, angst-filled mind and body. In those first independent years of college life, I felt I needed some guidance. This instructor promised discipline with an emphasis on diet.

Her first lecture, as we sat in baddha konasana, was what food meant to her. She felt food was a means of gaining nutritional nourishment. Nothing more. She stated that she often forgot to eat. This boggled my mind as my big Latino family never forgot to eat. You couldn’t go 15 minutes in my mima’s house without being asked if you’d eaten.

The instructor’s first assignment was for us to start a food journal – to be turned in at the end of our 8 week session. She didn’t ask that we change anything about our diet, but just to note what we ate and how we physically felt afterward. She gave us no template; “just write it down,” she said.

At the end of the 8 weeks, I did as she asked and turned in the  assignment. One week following, as she handed back our graded food journals, she asked if she could keep mine and chat with me after class. I assumed I did poorly as she didn’t even bother to give it back to me so that I could see my grade. My confidence lowered as the class progressed and my mind started making up reasons why she wanted to see me: “Did I do it wrong?” “Does she think I eat too much?” “Does my relationship with food make her uneasy?”

As my classmates gathered their mats, I slowed my pace to wait for the room to clear. Our short conversation revealed to me that instead of distaste or disagreement with my diet, she (to her own surprise, I think) respected it and asked if she could use my food journal as an example to others. Of course, I agreed. I left her room happy and proud with a bow of my head and a “namaste.”

My first yoga instructor was not the only one to gain some understanding and respect in the above anecdote. I learned things too, and in the last few years those ideas have finally formed into something identifiable. I love food – not in the way that people battling obesity love food (although the line I walk is thin and treacherous), but in the way I imagine an artist loves his medium, a priest loves his ritual, or a hunter his bow.

To me, food is not an obsession. Obsession is hostile. As with any consumable, food has the potential to become an object of obsession, but for me, food is sacred.

We all must eat to live. Mealtime is mankind’s most commonly shared ritual, and it pains me to see it become less important to the world. We live in the age of fast food, “future food” (meal bars, powders, and beverages), and the absence of a shared meal time.

If food is sacred, it should be treated as such. From the moment it is born or sprouted to the second it touches your lips – it should be respected, appreciated, and loved.

I suppose my feelings are almost exclusively the result of my upbringing. My mima taught me the importance of preparing a meal with love. My Pa taught me how to preserve my family’s culture through food and feasting. My Ma taught me how to appreciate and respect the people who prepare your food, for the act of meal preparation is as important as the meal itself. My husband reminds me daily that although I cook and prepare almost every meal he eats, he will never take advantage of that fact. Every meal is preceded by a compliment and is proceeded by a “thank you” and a kiss.

Every dish I make, I make for the person eating it. The end product is not for me. The preparation is the time for the chef to worship the food. What happens afterward is just gravy.

When I place a meal before anyone, it’s as intimate a moment as I can think of. It may sound weird and a little crazy, but as I hand off a meal I’ve prepared, I always think:

It took many people’s work it took to get this food to the table.
I am nourishing you. This food will fuel you the next 6-8 hours.
You are eating my time.
You are eating my love.
I hope you understand what this means.
I hope you appreciate it.
I hope you wash the dishes.

My time on the mat calmed my “monkey mind” as I was becoming a woman. Cooking is my new yoga. I am now as inseparable from my apron as I was from my mat in those days. When I am in the kitchen with my fresh food and tools, my mind is clear. My mood is elevated. For those who ever practiced yoga, you know that feeling that you get when your practice is complete and you’ve just sat up from Shavasana? THAT is the feeling I have. On the worst day, it’s serenity; on the best, it’s bliss.

What does food mean to you? Casita would like to hear your thoughts!  Share at http://www.micasitabella.com

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