Whatever we put into our bodies, minds, and hearts is what feeds them, but I am not sure that we appreciate the implications of this and we are often very careless about what we consume. We think, “Oh, it’s just this once,” but these “onces” become habitual and can soon add up to a lifetime of neglect.
A simple and delicious way to eat is to choose food that is as close to its natural state as you can find and then enjoy it without adding or taking anything away from it, that is, without cooking or seasoning. Lanza del Vasto described it as “putting as little space and time as possible between the earth and your mouth.” Choose fruit and vegetables that are fresh and in season, and that have not traveled too long or too far before you buy them. If you can discover fruit that has ripened on the tree and was not sprayed in the process, so much the better. Then eat it at its best, with the taste of the sun still there. Resist the temptation to garnish everything and you will find that an avocado, if it is a good avocado, has a flavor all its own. In fact, each avocado (or apple or apricot) seems to taste completely different from any other you have ever eaten.
From time to time I stock up my shelves with dried herbs, beans in all colors, shapes, and sizes, a variety of grains, cookies, and crackers. They form a wonderful display in their glass jars but months go by and I forget to use any of them. What I actually consume are the things in my short-term memory—whatever I have bought in the last few days. I go to the fruit and vegetable market and buy whatever is fresh and firm (beware of produce that is bruised or flabby). I am, after all, the granddaughter of a Covent Garden wholesale fruit and vegetable merchant. I do not buy more than I can use within two or three days because then it will no longer be fresh. This is hard to keep to when I visit a farmers’ market because there is so much wonderful stuff, but you have to be stern with yourself and buy with your head and not your belly. I also find it difficult to restrain myself when it comes to quantities of wondrous-looking fruit and vegetables. When I am putting them into plastic bags, I have to remind myself to buy enough for only one dish. This is particularly hard when I am cooking just for myself. But I believe that it is a crime to take home more than I can use.
When the moment comes to prepare a meal, I look in the refrigerator and see what is there and what combination of foods seems right for the day and hour. This is just the way I choose what to wear in the morning. The resulting meals (and outfits) can be quite stunning, if you don’t carry preconceived ideas of what goes together and what doesn’t. It is not that I never use cookbooks but I tend to use them for inspiration rather than information. If I have someone coming to dinner, I occasionally consult a cookbook. I leaf all the way through and always come up with a recipe that includes ingredients that are not in season. This is because we are always attracted by something unavailable (or, at least, I am). Then I try to figure out how I can adapt the recipe I have chosen for ingredients that I can actually find.
Even if you have a large family, try to estimate quantities accurately. Almost everyone would prefer a new dish rather than leftovers day after day. Yes, I know that there are such things as freezers, and people are always encouraging me to make enough for several meals and tuck portions away in the deep freeze. But psychologically this does not work for me. I just can’t believe that eating food that is canned, bottled, dried, or frozen is as good as eating produce that is only a few hours old. Of course it is possible to survive by eating foods that have had all these things done to them but over the long haul, I suspect that they take their toll. You can also be nourished by foods already prepared and available in stores. However, you will be far more nourished by food you have prepared yourself and it will also be cheaper and simpler.
One thing that may change your attitude toward the food is saying grace. In 1992, I edited a little book by Marcia and Jack Kelly entitled One Hundred Graces. In the introduction I wrote about the function and nature of mealtime blessings:
Saying grace is an ancient and vital tradition the world over. To begin with, it provides a space, a moment of stillness, in which to relinquish the activities of the day, and allow the mind to settle. Then, as we acknowledge the source of our nourishment, we are filled with astonishment at the generosity of the Creator, with gratitude, and with praise. In bringing the body, mind, and heart together, we come to ourselves, and remember who we are and why we are here. For some families, a meal is the only time everyone is present and so the opportunity to enjoy one another and really celebrate the occasion is not to be lost. For many, a meal is also the only time that there is any memory of the Divine. Saying grace establishes an immediate connection with that memory. In such a moment, when our minds are clear and the truth is reinforced by being sounded aloud, we can dedicate the meal and the strength we receive from it to the service of whoever or whatever is before us.
Once you have the food in front of you, the next thing is to remember to taste every mouthful; otherwise, it is such a waste. How many times have you wolfed something down because it was your favorite food, and realized when your plate was empty that you did not actually taste any of it? So smell it, taste it, chew it, and swallow it only when you are sure you have experienced it.