Food Stories

Our food stories are a barometer to the essence of our culture and ourselves, our struggles and our well-being.

There’s this commercial for Viking River Cruises on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre which talks about food as being the window to a culture.  It’s beautifully shot and written, and every time I see it, my heart opens. Most of us would agree that food is “…a window into the traditions that form the essence of a country. It’s a way to experience the heart of faraway lands…"  That it is and so much more. And what’s true about the heart of a country, is also true of the heart of a person. 

Our food stories, I’ve come to know, reach into our hearts and show up in the visual landscape of our lives. 

Sometimes they show up as barren, commercialized, homogenized spaces, nestled in nondescript strip malls proliferating our collective landscape. They appear stripped of warmth, telling us by our feelings when we’re there that…this is no way to eat! There must be another way! Nourishment is hard to find here but yet, it does find it’s way to these places. The other day on a rare trip to McDonald’s to fetch a griddle sandwich that my daughter had a craving for, I witnessed a group of elderly men at a near-by booth having a grand old time together, long after their breakfasts were eaten. It obviously was their morning meeting place and they appeared lively and happy. It depends I suppose on what we bring in with us. 

Another vision shows up in my personal landscape, of a summer table, set in a field of wildflowers, covered with a colorful French tablecloth, and laden with platters of delicious, fresh food, made by loving hands for the people that will gather there. In this place, I can’t help but notice, how this food, while delightfully calming my hunger, also feeds my Spirit with a flood of wellbeing so full, that I want to explode with gratitude for choosing the peace that chose this idyllic setting. 

Sometimes our food stories show up in our bodies, taking center stage to insure we won’t miss their messages.

 ...the belly fat that just won’t go away and gets bigger with age; the menu of food related illnesses whose list grows bigger then our bellies ever will, giving form to grievances that really have nothing to do with what we eat, but everything to do with what we believe. In these stories we make food an enemy and ourselves the prisoners. The list of our fears grow larger the ‘better’ we become informed. And our lists of what is safe and good get shorter and shorter.  It sometimes surprises me that we can eat anything at all! And it doesn’t surprise me that our diets have become ever more restrictive and the separation between us more profound. 

Food, it turns out, is a perfect barometer of our wellbeing and our struggles. 

How wonderful that you’ve noticed that your body doesn’t digest certain foods. Maybe you’ll notice that this points to beliefs you’ve ingested and can’t digest. Maybe you begin to suspect, that they are the true cause of the rumblings in your belly and now you know what you need to let go of. 

How wonderful that you’re battled with your weight your whole life and that the suffering it’s caused to your self-image and sanity has finally brought you to a place of peace you didn’t know existed. And that this gateway leads to feelings of love and gratitude for a body that, regardless of its shape, houses a Spirit within that knows nothing of being fat or sick or weak. And from this place you have the means to end not only the battle, but the war. And the spoils of this war is a body that no longer houses a battlefield but a meadow, nourished with rich soil, where new dreams can flourish; happy dreams that become endless joy. 

For me, food has never been the enemy. My demons lurk in more obscure places, cleverly concealed in more ‘acceptable’ wrapping. And so in a sense, I envy those for whom their errors of misperception show so clearly in the showcase of their bodies. They are on display for all to see, so the motivation to heal is strong and clear. Then it simply becomes a matter of deciphering the messages differently. 

The cause of our maladies, we eventually find out, is never our bodies, or even what we put into them, but rather our beliefs about what we ingest. 

Our body, our food, like everything outside of us, is neutral. They were never at war, but simply the symbols that set the stage for a war being fought within on an invisible battlefield that ‘needed’ these symbols and props in order to be seen. Once seen, the battle begins to lose its ammunition. Eventually, if we so desire, the war can end.  

My food stories usually take the form of a love times hot and smoldering, and at others, slowly simmering on the back burner of my life filling it with a subtle yet intoxicating aroma that  seemed to steer me away from the storms of my life and keeps me safe a while. And what better setting for a love affair with food, then a large, social, food loving Italian family. I grew up in a culture where food, preparing it, sharing it, was the highlight of most days. It was farm-to-table at it’s finest, fresh from nearby farms and gardens, prepared by masters of the kitchen whose purpose in life was to feed everyone who graced their table. That the food was delicious was a given, but having grown up in this love affair, what shaped me as a person, and later as a chef, were the stories that were as easily passed around the table as the pasta. 

Food, I soon realized, was the magnet that drew the players to the table, inviting them to relax and connect to each other. 

It was almost as if Spirit was infused into the smell of the garlic and onions sautéing on the stovetop, leading us by the nose, following a trail of aroma to it’s source. It’s as if Spirit knew that this sweet or savory trick was how to get us to sit together and share our food and ourselves. Food the Spirit seemed to say, was merely a sweet tasting dish with a heavenly aroma calling us to a colorful backdrop in which to join and be merry.   

For me, food has always been something to be savored with joy rather than guilt. This is the secret as to why I can - for the most part - eat what I like without gaining much weight; shedding what little may be gained, almost with the mere thought of it.  

But the story I tell here doesn’t lie in how lucky I am that weight, or allergies, or food related illness don’t plague me. I don’t have a story of how I beat my cravings or how I overcame bulimia or anorexia. Others have brilliant stories of how healing, both in body and spirit, have come from those experiences. My experience with food is a love story, and so in this sense, in this area, I am a healed healer who can speak to those who struggle with it. It’s a different tale, another possibility, another way to be with food that in truth, simply symbolizes a well-nourished life. 

Love is the only thing that heals, regardless of how it shows up. 

Food, for me was a call back to love, back to a feast I’d merely forgotten, using a language, a set of symbols I could respond to. It sets a beautiful table in a field of wildflowers, laden with everyone’s favorite dishes and invites us to sit down. In this love story I am the trumpeter for Spirit calling us to dinner because I’ve sampled what’s there and can tell you what it tastes like. To hear the call, all one needs is the willingness, the hunger to follow the signs to this delightful table, to an immaculate place setting with your name, written in gorgeous calligraphy, waits just for you.