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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

enlightenment for foodies

hi, i'm joni. and i'm addicted to food.

at one point, i was so addicted that it didn't matter if it walked or swam or flew or just grew in place. if someone cooked something well enough to make it look appetizing, i ate it. or at least attempted to. and i got great satisfaction from filling my belly with food that tasted good. it made me happy. and who wouldn't want a happy joni? :)

and yes, i was aware of those around me who had different eating habits than my own. like those who avoided eating red meat. or those who were sworn vegetarians -- including those who ate eggs but not dairy, or dairy but not eggs. and if they abstained from both eggs AND dairy, they earned the right to call themselves vegan. if they were really hardcore, they went raw. which meant no cooking, no heating. and as far as i was concerned, no fun.

in fact, in my earlier years of volunteering at the KCRW pledge drive (which, by the way, starts up again this week), it used to upset me when the choices laid out on the food table were predominantly vegetarian. pasta with veggies. veggie sandwiches. pizza with veggie toppings. where's the beef?, i used to whine. but since it was good -- and better yet, it was free -- i ate it anyway. (of course, now that i've stopped eating meat, i find myself whining that there aren't enough veggie entrees to choose from. as they say, the grass is always greener...)

maybe it's my continued exposure to vegetarians in the yoga community. or a better awareness of the meat industry and its role in global warming and animal abuse. or all that plus my attempt to limit my food choices to force myself to eat less to retain my i-wish-it-were-girlish figure. either way, i've gradually found myself becoming less of a carnivore and more of an herbivore (although i continue to eat fish and other seafood). but i do have my weak moments -- the times when i crave the taste and the mouthfeel of something meat-based. and if the dish in front of me is worthy of a transgression, i will eat it.

so when the new york times featured this article about yoga and food in today's dining section, i found myself being drawn to it, not only because i personally know and love dave romanelli, the yoga teacher featured in the story, but because it delves into the ongoing battle between two factions: those who are adamantly against eating meat of any kind vs. those who believe that as long as it tastes good, why not?

and you know exactly where i stand on that issue :)

here are some excerpts from that article. click here to read it in its entirety.

When Chocolate and Chakras Collide
By Julia Moskin
Published: January 26, 2010

“I DON’T condemn/I don’t convert.”

The words of Ziggy Marley’s “Love Is My Religion” floated over 30 people lying on yoga mats in a steamy, dim loft above Madison Avenue on Friday. All had signed up for a strange new hybrid of physical activity: first an hour of vigorous, sweaty yoga, then a multicourse dinner of pasta, red wine and chocolate. As soon as the lights went up, dinner was served on the floor: an (almost) seamless transition designed to allow the yogis to taste, smell and digest in a heightened state of awareness.

“It’s a little weird to sit on a sweaty yoga mat and eat soup,” said one woman, not pausing as she spooned up a smooth, cinnamon-spiked butternut squash purée from a bamboo bowl. “But people are used to doing some weird things in yoga class.”

Friday’s event at Exhale Spa was the first of a series of “Yoga for Foodies” sessions, devised by a young, adventurous yoga teacher, David Romanelli, and coming soon to restaurants in Chicago, Cleveland and Dallas.

Calling his mission “yoga for the Everyman,” Mr. Romanelli, 36, plays Grateful Dead songs during class, wears sweat pants rather than spandex, and has already experimented with offering chocolate truffles after chaturanga instruction. “It’s a way of getting people in the door,” he said in an interview. “The world is a better place if people do yoga. And if they come because chocolate or wine is involved, I’m fine with it.”

The past decade has produced thousands of new foodies and new yogis, all interested in healthier bodies, clearer consciences and a greener planet. Inevitably, the overlap between the people who love to eat and the people who love to do eagle pose has grown. In 2007, a combination yoga studio and fine dining restaurant, Ubuntu, opened in Napa, Calif.

But not everyone agrees that the lusty enjoyment of food and wine is compatible with yogic enlightenment. Yoga purists say that many foods — like wine and meat — are still off limits. Others, like Mr. Romanelli, say that anything goes, as long as it tastes good. The debate is exposing rich ores of resentment in the yoga world.

“The culture of judgment in the yoga community — I call it “yogier than thou” — is rampant, and nowhere more than around food,” said Sadie Nardini, a yoga teacher in New York.

“Nowhere is it written that only vegetarians can do yoga,” she said in an interview. “We do not live in the time of the founding fathers of yoga, and we don’t know what they wanted us to eat.”

There are many ways to “do” yoga: the term embraces meditation, worship, study and action, as well as the physical pretzeling that Americans primarily associate with the term. Just as the Judeo-Christian tradition has produced many offshoots, yoga has many schools, like Ashtanga, Iyengar and Tantra. But over the 5,000 years of its evolution, and across Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions, yoga has always been broadly understood as a route to enlightenment and purification.

Which is where eating bacon and pouring wine in yoga class, as Mr. Romanelli has done, becomes complicated. “People are starting to push back against the traditional, quiet, serious approach,” said Mr. Romanelli, who has a scrubbed, cheerful, regular-guy aura. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, he moved to California to work as an assistant to Shaquille O’Neal’s agent. In Santa Monica, he said, there were lines down the block for yoga classes. and, noticing a business opportunity before a spiritual one, he began attending classes, where he was quickly hooked.

India has become to American yoga what France is to American cuisine: an ancient source of wisdom to be reinterpreted, democratized and repackaged by its acolytes here. The “yoga industry” now represents about $6 billion in annual spending by American consumers on classes, videos, mats and apparel like the $158 Apres Yoga jacket at the upscale chain Lululemon, according to Yoga Journal magazine.

And in yoga and foodie circles alike, contemplating the awesome significance of every bite taken — its flavors, its implications, its history — often seems to lead to moral judgments about others.

“It’s been one of my struggles,” said Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef, who has been practicing yoga for 15 years, is not a vegetarian and loves pork. “I think that sometimes the yoga community is a little too austere, and it’s hard to talk about what I do with people who believe in eating just what you need to stay alive.”

Mary Taylor, a yoga teacher in Boulder, Colo., who studied with Julia Child in Paris, said that it was once difficult to reconcile her commitment to yoga with her love of good food. But in the Upanishads, the sacred Hindu texts, she said, she found an aesthetic philosophy in which the appreciation of worldly things is not only acceptable, but necessary to achieve true understanding. “Until you appreciate the fullest taste of a vegetable, you don’t know the truth of it,” she said. “And you bring out that truth by cooking it, making it beautiful and delicious and appealing to the senses.”

“The very first teaching of yoga forbids us to eat meat,” said Eva Grubler, director of training at Dharma Yoga in New York, one of the most venerated yoga centers in the country. Ahimsa, the first yama (things to not do), is a prescription not to harm others. But the definition of “others” — whether it includes all animals, or only people, or should perhaps extend to the plant kingdom — is in debate.

“This is the hottest of all hot-button issues in yoga,” said Dayna Macy, a managing editor of Yoga Journal, who recently attended the slaughter of five steer at Prather Ranch, an organic, certified-humane cattle ranch in Northern California, in an attempt to resolve her inner turmoil about eating beef.

Several prominent American yoga teachers like Ana Forrest and Bryan Kest have recently acknowledged eating meat. In an example of how yogis have adopted the language and ideology of foodies, Mr. Kest calls himself a “selectarian,” one who chooses everything he eats.

Many American yogis are so particular about what they put in their bodies that they make Alice Waters look like Paula Deen. Sometimes, even an all-vegan, organic, low-carbon-footprint diet is not pure enough: each vegetable must be grown in an atmosphere of positive energy. Steve Ross, an influential teacher in Los Angeles, says in his book “Happy Yoga; 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About” that yogis must ask themselves this question in the produce section: “Are the farmers full of gratitude and love, and do they enjoy growing food, or are they angry and filled with hate for their job and all vegetables?”

Ms. Taylor says she seeks a “middle path”; she follows a vegan diet but refrains from judging those who don’t. “If we become aggressive and intolerant towards those who do eat meat, is that an act of kindness?” she said. “If your grandmother is making a wonderful meat dish that you have loved since you were a child, is it yoga to push it away?”

Mr. Romanelli believes that any profound pleasure of the senses — a live Bruce Springsteen track, an In-N-Out burger, the scent of lavender gathered in the French Alps — can bring on the “yoga high” that is a gateway to divine bliss.

“What yoga teachers do and what chefs do is not so different,” he said. “We take everyday actions like moving and eating, and slow you down so you can appreciate them.” Achieving stillness and peace amid the distractions of life, he said, has always been the higher goal of yoga.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Leslie said...

What a well written post and I completely agree with you. I practice yoga and I'm also a foodie. Cheers :)

8:25 PM  
Blogger joni said...

practicing yoga makes us more aware of our self and heightens our senses... which probably helps us appreciate food even more :)

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Vivekanand Needam said...

I completely agree with you.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Bagus Satya said...

Here in Bali Yoga is very popular. Nice post especially for me who starting to know about yoga :)

8:55 PM  

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