In the meantime, I continue with my commitment to vegan eating for the year of 2010 with a sharpened perspective of the luxury I have in eating a healthy, fresh and nutritional diet that satisfies my ethical and social values. Back home after some traveling during the first two weeks of January, I find it pleasantly simple to shop and prepare food at home. Because of a bulk organic buying group that I participate in, I already have a supply of rolled oats, rice, quinoa, barley, raisins and nuts. I have found myself going to the store every two or three days for fruit and vegetables. Fresh greens and root vegetables have been abundant. Bananas are curiously cheap. I browse the organic food selection and try a product from time to time. (Latest find: Fantastic Foods’ humus mix; add water and olive oil, stir, tada! It has a light, lemony taste, good texture, and is handy to keep on my shelf for humus emergencies.)
Spending so much effort and thought on my food and eating has made me very mindful of every item I buy and bite I take. If I have an idle moment, I am now more likely to look up vegan recipes on line; I put more thought into preparing and enjoying my meals and snacks. This week, my self-education has turned to Ayurveda, structured Indian “life knowledge.” An extremely simplified description of the food aspect of Ayurveda recognizes three components (“doshas”) that each person has in varying degrees. When all three elements (vata = air, pitta = fire, and kapha = earth) are in balance, we are in robust good health. When we are out of balance, we can return to our most healthful selves by eating or avoiding foods with specific properties. I took the dosha questionnaire provided in an Ayurvedic cookbook, and found that I currently have far more earth (kapha) and equal amounts of air and fire.
Excess kapha symptoms include sluggishness, excess weight, lack of motivation and puffiness. These four characteristics could also be explained by more Western reasoning. Sluggish? Of course – the mid-Atlantic has had a serious cold snap, with temperatures below freezing for more than a week. It’s cold and windy; I don’t want to go outside and do something. Excess weight? I eat too much and don’t exercise enough – no mystery there. Lack of motivation? I am a graduate student on my last semester break before graduation. Watching movies is more appealing than writing my thesis. Puffiness? That’s long been my reaction to wheat gluten – right before the joint pain and headaches begin. Plain old food allergies.
However, it is undeniable that I am not currently in the best of health; I have been sluggish and lazy; I am too heavy and sometimes puffy. I believe that balancing my doshas and improving my diet are the same concept from two different perspectives, an idea that was further supported as I flipped to the food recommendations. To rebalance myself through Ayurvedic eating, I would need to eat foods that lessened the kapha properties. The fruits to avoid include tangy, citrusy items that actually don’t appeal. Vegetables had a very long list of “yes” and short list of “no”: sweeter vegetables were thought to increase kapha. Soy was not an option. Meats, dairy, oils and nuts had long lists of foods to avoid, and short lists of the ones to consume. In short, the recommendations of the way to eat to reduce kapha was very similar to conventional healthy weight-loss strategies: eat leafy greens and complex carbohydrates while avoiding fats and sugars.
I am not yet ready to embark on an Ayurvedic eating commitment. I have much more to learn about the philosophy and practice. I would need to balance my vegan interests (ghee, or clarified butter, plays a significant role in Ayurvedic cooking) with recipe recommendations. Most importantly, I would need to educate myself about the other, non-food, aspects of Ayurvedic practice. However, I found my research into the subject to be enlightening and interesting. I want to specially thank my super-supportive Aunt Joan, who provided me with two books this week: The Complete Vegan Cookbook: Over 200 Tantalizing Recipes Plus Plenty of Kitchen Wisdom for Beginners & Experienced Cooks by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay and The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook: Healthful, Healing Recipes for Life by Amrita Sondhi.
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