From halahala to challah . . . and more challah!

challah

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it felt like the challah was giving me a big hug. If that’s not comfort food, I don’t know what is.

A work drain triggered my needing some emotional nourishment today. I found it in a loop of self-practice that began with meditation and the opening invocation of the ashtanga practice and continued with comfort food in the form of a delicious vegetarian sandwich made with out of this world challah bread. I couldn’t help but think of this nourishing loop as exhaling halahala and inhaling . . . challah! :-) (Sorry, I really couldn’t resist — in the same exact way I couldn’t resist this sandwich.)

On the restorative front, it helped that I had the chance to eat dinner outside, with the sun warming my skin — something we do not take for granted here in Michigan, because you never know when spring and summer may mean overcast, chilly (for me, anyway) days. My husband and I had never eaten at Marie Catrib’s of Grand Rapids, but I had heard rave reviews from friends.

The restaurant has a focus on local farms, and it offers plenty of vegan and vegetarian fare. Why the menu was particularly exciting to me now is that fresh off of plowing through Salt Sugar Fat and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am now listening to the audiobook of — thanks to the suggestion of Omiya — Jonthan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

This is the book description:

Like many others, Jonathan Safran Foer spent his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood—facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf—his casual questioning took on an urgency. This quest ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.

This book is what he found. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits—folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions—and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting. (Here’s an excerpt of this 2010 2009 book.)

It’s a perfect time for me to be reading this book. Nourishment — of all kinds — is what I’m thinking about most these days, and while it has been nourishing to dive deeply into the stories these books have to tell, there can be a bit of what I think of as shitty food fatigue. Even more than with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I find myself, as I get deeper into this book, questioning why I ate such crap for so long — and what exactly got me to quit. I recently hashed out my meat thoughts, but perhaps what I have thinking about even more of late is the vibration of the food — both meat and dead and denatured processed food — I ate all those years and the effect it was having on me.

To be a bit more concise than I was in the last blog post, perhaps what ultimately got me to stop desiring meat in particular was that the combination of the six-day-a-week ashtanga practice, the daily meditation practice, and the Ayurveda program got me quiet enough and receptive enough to tune in to the vibration of the meat and the eggs I was eating. The scale of the animal suffering experienced in factory farms is so immense that I simply don’t believe the final products that arrive on our plates can escape it. The vibrations have to transfer on some level, right? But it’s easy to build a protective wall of avoidance and denial to block that kind of information from seeping in. (As I’ve said, I think my days of enthusiastically eating seafood are numbered too, but there are a few reasons I’m sticking with it for the moment.)

Never yuck someone else’s yum (yucking your own is OK though)

Eat Taste Heal reminds its reads of the vegetarian etiquette: “Never yuck someone else’s yum!” I’m not at all trying to do that; this is about coming to terms with my decades-long lack of mindfulness about what I’ve put into my body. I think it’s perfectly legit to yuck on my own past yums, and I’ve been finding that deconstructive process informative and even a bit cathartic. The flip side of this deconstruction — and the shitty food fatigue that can accompany it — is the constructive process of cooking in my own kitchen and seeking out establishments that are passionate about having guiding principles (farm to table/vegetarian-friendly/gluten-free/etc.) that look beyond the easy formulation of salt, sugar and fat to amp up a diner’s dish — not to mention the restaurant’s bottom line.

So when I have a wild rice and lentil burger patty on the most delicious piece of challah I can ever remember having, it’s about a lot more than ingesting fuel for my body or lighting up my taste buds. It’s about supporting an overall practice of nourishment.

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7 thoughts on “From halahala to challah . . . and more challah!

    • Yay! :-) I also went back and borrowed the book itself, because the way the chapter intros are done, you really do need to see how the chapters are laid out to sometimes understand the point/effect he’s trying to make. Thanks again for the great suggestion!

  1. Yesterday while driving, I got to the “Influence/Speechlessness” chapter of the audiobook, which talks about pandemics, epidemics, drug-resistant pathogens, food-borne illnesses — and how birds in our country die.

    This paragraph eerily captures what I was trying to say in this blog post:

    “Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve just discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory — disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”

  2. I finished Eating Animals today. I realize I’m sort of four years late to the publication of this tremendous book, but I think that no matter when you read it — assuming the horrific state of industrial animal agriculture remains constant (possible) or worsens (likely) — it’s a tremendous gift to yourself. I had already given up eating meat by the time I started this, but the book did so much to deepen my perspective about the environmental price we pay — as a globe — for the practices that are prevalent today. And it did a lot to move me on seafood, which I still currently — but probably not for long — eat. (More on that later.)

    I found “Quitting Meat: A Process Of Change,” a piece that Jonathan Safran Foer wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009, and it’s given me another perspective through which to view my own dance with trying to give up meat:

    Will this vegetarianism be the last one? It’s impossible to say, of course, but with my filled-out picture of not only contemporary animal agriculture, but my own understanding of fatherhood, it feels impossible to imagine a time when I would bring such food—which is virtually always unhealthy, destructive and cruel—into our home. Our home could not be our home in the same way, given what I now know.

    But perhaps there’s more to it. Perhaps it took all of that previous inconsistency, all of that pendulum swinging, to bring me to this place. Perhaps “failing” was not failing but approaching, one awkward step at a time, what I always wanted.

    I look back on more than three decades of eating animal flesh, and I wonder not only what toll it took on me, but, critically, how much collective animal suffering went into those thousands and thousands of meals. I wish I had had a more direct path toward this decision to step outside the vicious cycle that keeps factory farms in business, but the past is the past. I’m now focused on how my food choices going forward can reflect vitality rather than violence. And I also want to play with how I can continue to allow the joyful process of eating — of sitting at a table with friends and family — to help me deepen my relationship with others. I can’t count the number of juicy and transformative, comforting and invigorating, conversations I’ve had at a restaurant or home dinner table.

    In any case, I am looking forward to experimenting.

  3. Great link to his article. I am actually a little nervous to re-read it — the first time I read it, I was a full-fledged omnivore (though never ate that much meat, defs no red meat). The first reaction was to not want to eat any factory farmed meat anymore. The thought of not eating meat seemed difficult and like I would be inconveniencing everyone I knew.

    Later, my stomach inflammation issues rendered me almost vegan anyways, and I gave it more thought. I decided to just “try” veganism to see how it suited me and if I could do it. 4 months later, I would say I am 95% vegan and loving it. I stress a bit about not being 100% vegan, just like I stress about not practicing Ashtanga diligently 6 days per week….but I think it is all a process, 95% vegan and a 4-5 day Ashtanga practice (not full series everyday either) is a pretty big change! Sometimes we put such great demands on ourselves and life just gets so WEIGHTY….

    Anyways, now that I am predominantly vegan, I really want to read it again, because it had such a profound (philosophical and moral) effect on me the first time. I am so happy and interested to read about your journey with this book and with these sorts of life decisions.

  4. I also think any and each step towards reducing meat-eating is an achievement rather than a failure in not going all the way. If it was a failure then no one would succeed. It is a process as you mentioned and us Type A’s just have to be OK with and accepting of that. Hopefully the yoga helps us with this process, rather than feeding into it…

  5. Last post! I especially love this:

    “Perhaps “failing” was not failing but approaching, one awkward step at a time, what I always wanted.”

    How wonderful. My sentiments exactly. I always wanted this, it just seemed insurmountable. Luckily the world is making it easier and easier to live this way.

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