“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Some of the questions I have been living this year are ones of food, nutrition, and nourishment – What does my personal food system need to be to nourish my body, my spirit, and my environment? What does good food look like for my health and wellbeing? How do I live my values with the food I eat?
My food journey and inquiry were opened up with Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In this book, I read about a family who moved from Tucson (the city I had newly moved to) to Virginia in order to grow their own food. They set out with a mission to spend a year only eating food that had been grown and made within a hundred miles of them. In this book, I learned that in-season food is more delicious and nutritious. I learned that food designed to be shipped across the world prioritizes durability over taste & nutrition. I learned that eating local food stimulates local economies and is a profound way to love your neighbor. I learned that “Eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients, obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body,” (BK) It was the pages of this book that had me start asking: what does it mean to eat well?
“From the ground up everything about nourishment steadies my soul.” Barbara Kingsolver
Nourishment is defined as: the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition; the action of nourishing someone or something. To nourish also means to keep in one’s mind, typically for a long time. Nourishment has become a central goal in my life; I am trying to nourish wholeness in my body, mind, spirit, environment, and relationships. I am learning about the food and substances necessary. And I am keeping these questions in my mind. A book about locavores has turned into nutrition classes, CSA (community supported agriculture) volunteering, and hours of cooking, all in the pursuit of understanding what it means to eat well.
Food Necessary for Growth
One definition for growth is the process of increasing in value. I like to think of this increase in value not as something increasing in monetary value, but rather as in increase in values, an increase in a person’s principles or standards of behavior. Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.” Growth is when we build lives that demonstrate what we care about. Growth is when we do better. It is the process of using our lives as examples for that which is most important. Our lives are our most beautiful works of art, and I believe incorporating our values into how we live is the epitome of spiritual practice (the word for this is praxis, the practice as distinguished from the theory). As we learn, make mistakes, and expand we have the opportunity to fill our lives with actions, materials, and resources that support what we care about and what we believe matters. This is what growth is all about for me.
After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I did some research on how I could introduce more local produce into my life, determined to bring more good food in. I discovered Tucson CSA and sauntered down to check it out on a Tuesday afternoon. I found a bustling community full of people interested in eating and producing well. I started volunteering at the CSA and I found food that was grown locally and nourishes my body. I was also fed by finding a community that helps nourish my understanding of what a life of nourished values could look like. I love the image of roots, of being rooted in the ground. Eating locally grown produce that is free of pesticides and other toxicants while serving this community through volunteering helped me ground my values of eating well and continues to help me grow, supporting my walk towards nourishment.
“Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren’t trivial. Ultimately, they will, or won’t, add up to having been things that mattered.” Barbara Kingsolver
Food Necessary for Health
The second element of the definition of nourishment is food for health. I am intrigued by the axis between health and wellbeing created by food; what we eat has profound impacts on how our body works. The cliché “you are what you eat” grates at me, I tire of the products advertised for health, of the incessant self-help for productivity. I am drawn instead to the chemistry of vegetables, grains, and other earthly goods being transformed into the flesh and bones that make up my body and the fuel that keeps my heart beating, lungs breathing, and mind moving. I am pulled toward the wisdom of our food connecting us to our planet and to each other. Providing the food necessary for health in my life means giving my body what it needs to evade disease, reach for vitality, fuel my movements, and connect with the world around me.
I am currently pursuing an abundance of nutritional questions in my pursuit of becoming a health coach. I believe that you should only teach what you know, and so I am in the process of building a nourishment pattern in my life informed by the research I have been doing.
I’ve learned that the dietary risks associated with the highest mortality in the US are: high dietary salt, low dietary omega-3 fatty acids, high dietary trans fatty acids, and foods with a high glycemic index/load (1). Accordingly in my life, I am working to limit processed foods (both for the salt and sugar content), eating more fish (specifically wild caught salmon) considering supplements, avoiding trans-fat, and paying attention to glycemic index and glycemic load. I am learning a lot about specific dietary goals for macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients and adding new habits into my routine. For example, I now aim to have half of my plate be vegetables as often as possible and to eat a variety of colors. I am working on introducing more legumes and beans into my routine. I add freshly ground flax seed to my smoothies, salads, and stir fry’s. I take a mushroom extract daily. All of these details are steps toward nourishment that will be personalized for each body and value set, and I am very much in process building mine.
“The secret of life is that everyone must sew it for themselves.” Soren Kierkegaard
The word ‘diet’ comes from the Greek word diatia, which means a way of life. I am drawn to this idea of a diet being a habitual way of eating as opposed to the normal understanding of it as a restriction or prescription. I am learning that eating for health and wholeness is about your food pattern, what you eat most of the time, rather than the individual food item you eat. What we eat can tell us a lot about what we value. What does your food pattern tell you about what you value? My goal is to create a personal eating pattern that is characterized by nourishment, wholeness, and connection; especially after coming to understand more how western diets perpetuate so many diseases.
I am in awe of the ways that making different choices about our food leads to very different embodiments of health. My goal is to use my food pattern to build a version of health that is diverse, energized, grounded, and well rounded. I am also learning the more I approach my nutritional habits as an act of love for myself and the world, the more sustainable it becomes. For example, meal prepping on Sunday’s has become a deliberate time where my hands are busy crafting meals of real and beautiful food, which opens my heart to abundance, and connects my mind to spiritual questions. Knowing enough about biochemistry to feel validated in your nutrition is helpful but getting bogged down in the science of nutrition actually takes us further from nourishment. Food is a very human thing, and we need to let it be complex, grounded, and personal. My nutrition becomes nourishment when I allow it to be an act of self-love as opposed to self-improvement, self-flagellation, or full of ego.
Food Necessary for Good Condition
As I continue to learn more about the food required for good health, the food necessary for good condition is also an area of expanding research. Good condition is defined as ‘being fit for intended purpose.’ The intended purpose of nourishment is wholeness, including the wholeness of systems. Above I talked about food for growth as a process allowing our choices about food to show our values and food for health as a food pattern of self-love that provides what your body needs. I understand food necessary for good condition as the part of our personal nourishment that also extends care to the food systems and ways of eating we are part of in the larger world around us. So much of the popular western food pattern is characterized by refined sugar, quantity over quality, and greed. I believe food for good condition in nourishment is asking us to consider the ways we are stewards of this planet. As eaters, what we eat determines how the resources of the world are used. What we eat demonstrates what we value. What we eat incentivizes or disincentivizes the production of specific resources. As individuals, we have power in our lives. As a group of empowered individuals building lives that display our values, we have the power to shift larger systems.
“… the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.” Michael Pollan
The word nourish derives from the Latin word ‘nutrire’ which means ‘feed, cherish.’ The word cherish means to protect and care for lovingly. Approaching our food, how we eat, and why from a place of cherishing is radically different from consuming. I am interested in a world of loving care extended to the food we eat and how it is grown and harvested. A world of lovingly protecting what we care about. A world of nourishment that considers how our practices impact other animals, plants, and environments. I believe being well is directly related to cherishing; in other words, I know that loving, caring, and protecting what matters in ourselves and our world is how we become well and whole humans.
Living questions of food, nutrition, and nourishment is teaching me a lot about what is good and whole. It is teaching me about self-love and eating well. In this walk towards nourishment, towards that which lovingly cares, protects, and thinks deeply about the food necessary for growth, health, and good condition, I am discovering profound ways to invite health, vitality, and wellbeing into my life. And eventually, I am working to share the steps.