Barbara Ramsay reflects on what’s good in food and best in diet.
‘Always read the fine print’ used to refer to mortgages, contracts and important business deals. Now it’s cereal boxes, soup cans and bottles of juice. We stand in supermarkets peering at labels, trying to decipher strange codes with numbers attached, and search for things are ‘poly’ or ‘mono’ or ‘un’. When Linus refused to eat his peanut butter sandwich and Lucy demanded to know why, he looked at her with horror and said, “Look at the label on the jar. This thing is full of ingredients!”
The food pundits have a lot to answer for. They say we shouldn’t eat dairy foods. They cause mucous. Vegies are okay but watch out for the dreaded eggplant. It has the same cellular structure as a cancer cell. A tomato? Well, that’s part of the deadly nightshade family. Follow ‘Pritikin’ and you’ll eat lots of grain before noon. Be macrobiotic and you’ll eat almost nothing else all day. ‘Live mostly on fruit but always cook it.’ they say. Except, of course, for the ones who say, ‘live mostly on fruit, but never, under any circumstances, cook it.’
And it’s not only eating that’s fraught with danger. Drinking is almost as complicated. Hot chocolate is out, after all, it’s made with milk. Coffee? You might as well say ‘arsenic’. Tea is almost worse than coffee because it not only has caffeine, it also has tannic acid. Soft drinks don’t have tannic acid, but they do have the caffeine. They also have sugar, except for the diet type and they’re all mini chemical factories just looking for a stomach to pollute. Juice should be freshly squeezed or it has no nutritional value at all and for heaven’s sake don’t drink it with anything else. Of course, there’s always water, but the stuff from the tap is full of dreadful things and the stuff that bubbles up from springs—well, who knows what’s in the ground these days. There’s always mineral water, but then the minerals aren’t really all that good for you. Listen to it all and you’ll end up living on distilled water and wind-fall apples and I’m not too sure about the apples.
Then there’s the ‘vegetarian’ question, a subject that has caused many a long discussion with friends. For me, when my daughter was small and we’d just been singing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and then there were chops for dinner, it gripped my mind and wouldn’t let go. But... if I say I don’t eat anything that thinks, or is conscious, huge debates spring up filled with facts about carrots than scream when you cut them, and questions like ‘how can you prove a fish thinks?’ To save the trouble, I just say I don’t eat anything that has a face. No matter what our food choices or opinions of all the arguments, with all the facts and figures, the speculations and investigations, something very important is usually left out.
Food feeds more than just the stomach and it nourishes more than just the body. Food comforts the heart as well. After all, how many mothers offer a cookie as well as a hug, when a child falls down? When food is given with loving hands, it has the power to soothe a crying child. Even when we’re grown, its power to comfort is still there. In many cultures, when someone is bereaved, it’s traditional for neighbours and friends to bring food to the house. Far more than simply saving the mourning from having to cook, it means ‘I care ... I’m here ... there is life after this’.
Celebrations too, often have food at their heart. We invite people to share a meal as a sign of friendship, and we celebrate birthdays with a cake. And what is nicer, warmer or friendlier than to bake something sweet for people you care about?
Life being what it is, there are lots of special treats for the palate, the tummy and the heart that will never disappear—whether or not they’re good for us—and the most important of these are the things that are made by hand, by someone you know.
Sure, cakes and biscuits from the supermarket, or frozen dinners and tins of things save people lots of time. There’s no reading of recipes or spending extra time in the kitchen or washing up afterwards. But you can’t make them carefully, with love, and they will never fill the kitchen with the good smells of culinary care and cosiness. You can’t serve them still warm from the oven and you can’t bake them with your children.
But there is even more to home cooked food than the way it tastes and they way it smells. More, even, than the act of sharing. Though it’s true that ‘We are what we eat’, it’s even ore true that ‘We are what we think’, for the human mind is a powerful thing. Few people these days would doubt that our minds send out vibrations constantly and that these vibrations effect the world we life in. It’s something that people always seem to have sensed on an instinctive level.
Once when I was small, I remember overhearing my mother talk about a quarrel and the atmosphere it left. “You could cut the air with a knife”, she said. To my child’s mind this was incredibly vivid. I could almost see that air ... thick and kind of gluey. It would be hard to walk against such air, I thought, and impossible to run or skip. For a long time whenever there was quarrel, I looked hard, trying to actually see the air in the room, but I didn’t have to get much older before I understood what she meant.
In the days of the happy hippies and the flower children, people said, ‘Good vibes, man’, or ‘heavy’. It made total sense. An atmosphere filled with antagonism or jealousy or anger is heavy and it does create a feeling you can almost cut with a knife. We all know these things. There are endless numbers of books written on how to use the right thoughts to create your own life, to change it into what you want it to be. Everyone agrees that thoughts are powerful. It is accepted that our moods can affect the atmosphere. And if the way we think affects the vibrations, it also affects the food we cook. Every day we deal with vibrations that we can’t see and yet completely accept. Many of these vibrations travel incredible distances and are picked up so clearly and so strongly that they arrive as pictures and sound, clear enough for anyone to see. The only reason we don’t look at television as a little cosmic, the only reason we don’t view it with scepticism, is because we’re used to it.
With the click of a switch, light happens, and we never waste any time considering how impossible that seems. Indeed, if it depended on our belief, we’d probably still be living in the dark. Some miracles we’re used to and some are simply still new to us.
When we are cooking, our minds are working, minds do that all the time, whether we want them to or not. That’s what our minds do. When we are stirring and rolling and baking, we’re thinking, and thinking creates vibrations, whether we want it to or not, because that’s what thoughts do. If we are thinking positive thoughts, then our vibrations are happy, peaceful ones and these affect the food, so they will affect the people who eat the food.
Except in places where survival is so hard that food simply holds the body and the soul together, the sharing of it has always been part of deeply significant moments ... milestones in life: the wedding breakfast, the christening feast, the funeral feast, the shared feast of thanksgiving that commemorates an older sharing of food between two cultures. Even the words ‘breaking break’ signify friendship and peace. Deeply spiritual moments use food as their coin of passage, whether in the West, where Christ and his disciples shared the Last Supper, or in the East, where worshippers are given food that has been offered in temples, or cooked in remembrance of God.
Thoughts are powerful and the vibrations created by what we think affect Life. If our thoughts are filled with negativity, if we cook when we are angry or upset, we run the risk, like an old wives’ tale, of metaphorically ‘curdling the sauce’. Cook with care, cook with love and know that this is one miracle you have control over ... one miracle you can perform.
It’s in our power to give this miracle, like a gift, to the people who eat what we cook. It’s in our power to give them food that holds peace and love and warmth and even a little bit of magic. We must never forget that in the best of recipes, love is the secret ingredient.
Barbara Ramsay is a Freelance Writer based in Melbourne, Australia