One of the reasons that this blog is called Jejune Diet is because food is one of the focus areas of my efforts as a blogger. Not just recipes and writing about food, but the food that we consume in other ways, the books we read, the music we listen to, the films we watch, and the thoughts and ideas that we pay attention to.
My goal is to help readers feel better about what society might call a jejune diet, one devoid of titillation and spice, one devoid of gossip and controversy, and one devoid of malicious conflict and hatred. My desire is to awaken in readers the realization that what is truly worthy of being included in our mental and spiritual diet is usually not what the media insists you have to consume.
As one learns to savor the tranquility of selective attention, of deliberate living, one discovers the true joys of life, freedom from ignorance, greed and anger, and is able to appreciate the magic that life is all about.
This post, however, deals exclusively with food as in what we eat to stay alive physically.
Almost all food that we recognize as food is life in another form. The act of eating is an act of using the vital energies and nutrients contained in another life form in order to sustain ourselves. It is an act of destroying life in order to sustain our own. And this applies to plant life just as much as it applies to animal life. Even if you are a hard core vegan, you are still consuming other life forms to sustain your own.
In addition to this is the fact that not all that is kept on the “food” shelves of the stores is really natural and organic food. Close your eyes and visualize the food aisles of your favorite supermarket, and you will realize that most of the items there are processed foods with liberal doses of preservatives that prevent them from behaving like organic food and break down. The process of creating and packaging food products involves steps that rob them of both their natural flavors and their natural appearance. Therefore, taste enhancers and colors are added to make them attractive and look and taste like food. So what you end up eating is really several times removed from food.
For urban dwellers like me, there are certain very powerful barriers to being able to eat natural. Availability of natural produce, time, and opportunity top the list, at least for me. With time and attention, I have been able to break down some of these barriers, while with others, perhaps it is easier to learn to live with them and compensate with goodness elsewhere.
Here are some easy ways that you can develop a natural and healthy diet without compromising your lifestyle. Most of these tips are built around the two basic acts of procuring supplies and preparing meals.
1. If you cannot carry it, you do not need it. The first principle of eating naturally is to eat fresh, which means stocking up as little at a time as possible. As you enter the store, take a basket instead of a trolley. Even if you are shopping for the week for a large family, take a basket along with the trolley. The act of carrying the weight of the basket will cue your mind as to how much you really need to buy. Once your basket is too heavy to carry, transfer the contents to the trolley and continue shopping with the basket. Overshopping and overeating are two of the most common mistakes most people make.
2. Improvise. This tip is the opposite of conventional wisdom, but it works for me. While I shop from a list for all other items, I do not list out fruits and veggies that I need to buy before I go to the store. I create a menu plan after I have brought the veggies home and sorted them out into the pantry and the refrigerator. The reason for this is perhaps my location and the stores I go to. I have found that if you go with a list based on a menu plan, the store will not have exactly the veggies that you have on your list. If this is not the case with you, and if you are comfortable working out of a menu plan and a list, go ahead and ignore this tip.
3. Audit your waste. It is not uncommon that periodically, you will discover fruits or produce, and even pantry items that you have bought which is going southwards and needs to be thrown out. Keep a page in a diary or a whiteboard corner earmarked for this, and enter the approximate price of what you are disposing of. This will help you discipline your shopping and eating habits.
4. Fill her up. When you go shopping, start by going to the fruits and veggies section first. Typically, and especially in the more contemporary supermarket format stores, these will either be at the farthest exterior wall or towards the end of the natural flow of aisle traffic. Learn to pick up your basket, not look right or left, but head straight for the produce and fruits section. I use this same principle when eating out or at a buffet. Help yourself generously to the salads and veggies first, then use the remaining space (on your plate, in your stomach, and in your visual appetite) for the fried or fatty stuff. This also helps combat the need for dessert or at least, second helpings of it.
5. Go seasonal. The basic principle to apply with fruits and veggies is to pick up 70-80% of stuff that is seasonal. Seasonal produce contains all that your body needs most for that particular season. This is why summer vegetables are typically watery and fleshy while winter vegetables are firm and lend themselves to more fiery and spicy dishes. In these global times, a lot of the stuff you will find in the produce section are brought in from other regions and other countries. Stock up on the stuff that is grown locally and then consider stuff that does not belong to your clime.
6. Build a color palette. The next principle to apply is to make sure you have all the colors in your basket. Color of fruits and vegetables are indicators to the nutrients they are made of. Ensuring that you have a range of colors lets you get a balanced intake of all the nutrients that you can get.
7. Go green. The benefits of dark green leafy vegetables are myriad, and one can really not get enough of it. (One actually can though, and with disastrous results too, but then, not everyone is as crazy as me.) With leafy greens, overcooking and boiling robs them of their true nutrient value, so consider eating them raw, or blanched. Most Indian cultures have a solid body of knowledge with regard to leafy greens, but sadly, it is rapidly being lost, especially among urban, cosmopolitan populations who equate it with conservatism and backwardness. I find myself unable to identify more than half of the leafy greens that are available at the local farmer’s market, and have no clue how to cook many of the ones that I can identify. Grab your nearest grandaunt when you go shopping for veggies next and stock up on the greens with her help. In my case, they not only helped me out with the recipes, but even took over the kitchen and served up some yummy and unusual dishes made from the fresh greens.
The process of choosing what you will eat, preparing it, and eating it is really a deeply spiritual process. For some people, food turns into a way of denying themselves access to their inner feelings, while others look on it as nothing more than a survival function. There are some who believe that one cannot have a healthy diet unless one spends a good deal of money on food. There are others who confuse quality of eating with quantity of eating. If you try and use the ideas in this post, you will automatically be guided towards natural, wholesome and practical eating habits. Eating naturally leads to clear thinking, better health, and a greater connectedness to the universe. Give it a try, you will thank me later.