I love cooking foods grown with conscious love. I love produce that doesn't have to masked with a recipe, because eating raw or introducing a little bit of heat and oil to the earth gives you one bite of something that transforms your entire day. I love drinking clean water and learning about salt and tasting different regions. And when I find sweet potatoes at the grocery store that blow all other sweet potatoes out of the water, I know to savor (learn + remember) and not to expect it next season, next circumstance. Good food makes for ecstatic earth practices, and the process of cooking, tasting, eating is such a beautiful gift.
V + VG + GF are not always easily understood dietary restrictions. Everyone has different reasons and approaches. In addition, traveling with dietary restrictions is an interesting exercise. I had quite a few learning experiences in Yunnan that expanded my understanding of my own dietary needs, and connected me to ways of thinking beyond the physical with food.
With regard to food, China really has its moments and its dietary havens. In the Southwest, in Yunnan, there is vibrant, local agriculture and fresh fruit in the summer. It was amazing to encounter so much vegetarian abundance in a place where meat is such a dominant factor in cooking and hospitality. Guests who don't want meat are unusual or Buddhist. Additionally, in larger metropolitan areas, speaking from experiences in Shanghai, Buddhist restaurants were doing exquisite things with vegan ingredients and attracting people with all sorts of dietary preferences. I remember a companion turning to me and commenting on how wonderful potato is for taste and health. And then there was his shared surprise that a meal without meat could leave you feeling both full + light.
Food! Here goes talking about it and more of June 2015.
I had one ecstatically perfect meal in Dali 大理 in series of beautiful food experiences this past summer. The meal was a simple stir fry. It was my first cooked meal after landing in China, and I often think of my friend who ordered it and the woman who cooked it.
Think of this:
When you enter a small restaurant, there's a refrigerated display of what they have in stock. Often there's a variety that you can't find names for, so everything is done by sight. (If you aren't great with language, you can go pretty far with pointing.) So, you point to what appeals to you. Stock gets pulled from the case, tossed over heat and served immediately.
Now, think of this:
No refrigerators. Just living, fresh, loved, and regularly-watered displays of produce (some, if not all, of which is grown within a few miles of where you're standing). This was my experience of eating in 大理.
I love restaurants in Yunnan. I love food in Yunnan. I love seeing farmers motoring their own carefully secured harvests in open containers from village to city, point A to point B. I love knowing that those vegetables aren't getting crushed into a dank shipping container, that they're still living and being treated as such. I love the sprawling markets with vendors selling stuff so fresh and crisp and exploding with flavor that the idea of going to a grocery store makes my stomach turn.
Anyone who has gotten deep with me in talking about food, might know that I pay attention to its 'energetic' content. This may make me a food weirdo, but developing that sort of awareness is the crux of cultivating health and comfort where there used to be chronic pain and systemic failure.
What life did that 'matter' live before you consumed it? Who handled it, cooked it, and how did they feel during that contact? How are you assimilating or digesting this 'story' in your own body? Forget trend dieting. Forget problems and solutions. Forget the rhetoric and identifiers of who you are based on what you eat. Forget 'morals'. Pay attention to the full story. Observe. Watch yourself with some patience and forgiveness. Pay attention to how you approach eating. Are you learning from your food?
The woman who cooked my first meal in 大理 put love into her work. At the time, I was nervous about eating. My nerves were wrecked from airplane/bus transportation, and I wasn't 100% grounded in my body. I was worried about getting sick en route to Lijiang Studio since we still had travel ahead of us. But, what that woman created soothed my system and balanced me for the rest of the day. The experience of her company and consuming food at her storefront gave me strength, brought me home, offered protection + reassurance that I was going to be fine in this new place.
Essentially, I'm talking about love as science (click here for another example of what I mean), not sentiment. I am talking about the creative act as an act of digestion - integrating the mind and body, consuming/releasing blockages, and evolving through experience into a new moment. This is the purpose of any science, any artistry (common or esoteric), to ground rational and irrational experiences in a way that they can inform each other and create something new. Experiences of such things, I do not forget, and I think about them constantly.
Greens + roots + fruit flesh are my thrill and Yunnan's permaculture and biodiversity was an edible paradise. Here's a (limited) list of regular loves this past summer:
- watermelon vine (西瓜藤 xīguā téng)
- mung bean noodles (凉粉 liángfěn)
- bitter melon (苦瓜 kǔguā)
- seasonal, local wild roots (???)
pickled cabbage (酸菜 suāncài)
We're coming up to turkey day and I'm still, ridiculously, trying to find words for this summer. But, the connections are still there, and I'm still writing.