Featuring Lisa Marie Peloquin, Ph.D.
Deciding what’s for dinner is not an easy process-especially when the average U.S. American supermarket presents us with over 47,000 different products (FMI 2014). While mass media marketing attempts to persuade us that grocery shopping is an expression of cherished cultural values like “freedom” and “individuality,” over-abundance of choice actually complicates decision-making. Social scientists, consumer advocacy groups and a quick trip to Scandinavia clearly indicate that you are not alone, mesmerized and waffling over that towering wall of curly green kale, collards and chard in the grocery store. In these Nature Notes, I reflect as a cultural sociologist and culinary nutrition expert on ways to help you minimize the overwhelming and maximize a loving connection to the natural world as you hunt and gather your nourishment.
When encountering life’s challenges, sometimes to “Just say ‘No’” accomplishes a simple, desired purpose. Observe the persuasive effects of chanting this esoteric mantra of “No” by any vocal two-year old. Being a defiant toddler with a visceral awareness of preferences and limits is undoubtedly a positive stage in human development-ask WebMD. Philosophers have examined a suspiciously similar practice by which toddlers in adult bodies, a.k.a. “grown-ups,” likewise deploy the “No! No! No!” to help us clarify an increasingly complex and differentiated world.
Known as apophatic theology, or the via negativa, adults strive to describe and access the Good, the Beautiful, or Divine through a process of precisely naming and rejecting what is Not Good, Not Beautiful or Not Divine. As human animals map a tight, fast-paced circuit along the outer perimeter of the food store, we effectively shield our consciousness from tens of thousands of “No’s!” When we buy garbanzo beans in bulk using a glass jar from home, we effectively say “No” to more plastic in our landfills and “No” to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our bodies. Consuming a diet that is “Real food… mostly plants” (Pollan) speaks a resounding “No!” to numerous forms of cancer, diabetes, obesity and, quite frankly, most diseases of modern civilization. No dairy, no gluten, no chemicals, no preservatives…. On many levels, this path of the via negativa succeeds in distinguishing the good, the bad and the ugly within the dizzying carnival of our supermarket aisles.
However, the mind and soul become weary from constant rejecting, refusal and resistance. While “No” has profound traction and consequence, the via negativa is ultimately restrictive, not generative. Any physicist (or honest therapist) will underscore that balanced energy/harmony a) does not manifest into neat, mutually exclusive categories of Yes and No and b) recognizes that “going with the flow” within a system is much easier than stopping that flow.
Contemporary humans are bombarded with information about the scientific, rational, quantifiable dimensions of their existence. Checklists abound that explain why humans should eat local, seasonal, and organic ingredients for their health and the environment. This season, I encourage you to expand your menu of action beyond the via negativa and to dialogue with the heart that feels as well as the head that calculates. That is, embrace the non-rational qualities of human consciousness as we practice contentment with food choices. Human animals are fascinatingly non-rational entities. We share an enchanted existence, motivated by shared values that stubbornly defy rational calculation. We Love, Hope, practice Faith, and pursue Beauty and Peace despite all odds. The hundreds of thousands of people that marched with Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela did not pause to calculate the risks and benefits of their choices with pen and paper, even if they were accepting double coupons on those historic days.
The foods growing all around us, in season, are actually the foods ideally suited to prepare the body for the transition from fall into winter-from the beneficial macrobiota on the carrot that colonize your large intestine (read powerful immune system boost) to the warming effects of roasted root vegetables and pungent spices that blanket your core from plummeting temperatures. Seasonal eating maximizes our resonance with the allies (in the soil, in the plants, in our guts) that always already exist within the natural world. Embracing non-rational dimensions of food choice involves cultivating an embodied experience of the interconnectedness of life. Practicing mindful engagement of the five senses during your waltz through the grocery store and expanding your range of awareness out of the rational mind and into a body that perceives and interprets aroma, color, texture and taste. Focus more on what you love and less on rational adherence to rules of avoidance. Allow and listen to memory, affection and emotion as you seek nourishment. This Autumn, let your passions pluck that apple off the tree and devour it. Playfully carve that magnificent pumpkin with your loved ones (but don’t forget to toast and eat the seeds—they are high in zinc!) The less we perceive the world as a collection of objectified prices, portions and packages of micro and macro-nutrients, the more we stimulate bon appetite for both healing foods and for life.
Lisa Marie Peloquin, Ph.D. and Culinary Nutrition Expert
For more about Lisa and her upcoming
Autumn Harvest Cooking Workshop, click here.