A few nights ago before bed, I was thumbing through an Ayurvedic cookbook, a little light reading on digestion to wind down the day, when the author surprised me with the question of purpose. She said that when she asks her clients what their life purpose is, they often reply that they don’t know. Alone in my living room, my hand went up. She said in a very matter-of-fact way that this is a good thing to be aware of. “It’s useful to know what you’re doing here: you are more likely to do it.”
Now this is a question I’ve been pondering for years, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, reading for inspiration, writing about it, talking about it, spending time with people who have found their creative voice, etc. Generally, one of two things happens. The first scenario is that I come up empty handed, telling myself I have no idea what I’m doing in this life, and depending on my mental state I get mildly depressed and nervous about the ticking clock. Or, if the sun is shining and spirits are high, I trust that if I just keep putting my best foot forward I’ll arrive at it. The second scenario is that I flirt with the possibility that what I really enjoy doing is my life’s purpose, and then I look at all the ways in which I am incapable of carrying out said purpose due to lack of adequate training, experience, skills, audacity, etc.
Now having this cookbook talk to me so nonchalantly about the special purpose thing was the last straw. It may as well have said, “Dude, everybody knows their life purpose, duh. What’s your problem? Sort it out.” I realized that I needed to commit, to stop playing small, stop sidestepping and dis-empowering myself, and just go for it. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid, as they say.
So here goes. I love to cook for people. I love to nourish them. Few things make me happier than smiling faces around a table filled with vibrant, delicious, nutrient rich, socially conscious food. Food that fuels us, sustains us, empowers and invigorates us. Food prepared with loving hands and good intentions. Food that doesn’t have commercials, and that comes from as close to the table it’s being served at as possible.
The very next day, I was hired by my first client to be her personal chef. What was that about forces coming to your aid?
This is how I love to cook, and the passion extends to helping others find comfort and health in their own kitchens. Much of my inspiration to do this work comes from my mother. My mom is the kind of woman who lights up a room with her smile, her laugh, her charisma and natural charm. She’s beautiful. She’s honest and forthright, crass and loud and people are drawn to her. Still, she’s struggled much of her life with her weight and, in a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, her self esteem. Having come of age in the 70’s and 80’s, she was raised on meat and potatoes in a largely German community that drowned everything in heavy cream. They fried meats, baked potatoes, and called ice-burg lettuce smothered in mayonnaise “salad.” Her father, my grandfather, was loved in the community as a mischievous highway patrol man, the likes of whom a book could be written about, who was also notorious for buying the sickly calves at auction, for bringing home road kill, for watering down sauces to “make it go further,” and generally pinching pennies. She had depression era parents in rural Kansas and didn’t grow up being taught much about how to cook and eat healthfully.
Fast forward to a few years and a couple of babies (giant babies, I was nearly 10 pounds) later, and she was in need of losing a few pounds. This was in the early 80’s and all kinds of stuff was happening in the food industry. Namely, it was becoming much more of an industry. There were more and more processed, packaged, artificial (dead) foods being put on the shelves, each one with their own health or weight loss or good-ol’-down-home-cookin’ claim on package, each one being pushed onto consumers (formerly known as ‘citizens’) by countless advertising dollars. The amount of conflicting and down right wrong information about what to eat is just astonishing, and many people, much more well-versed than I, have written many fine books on the topic. I’ll just stick to my mom.
So here’s my mom in all this mess, a young mother of two, married to a farmer, then divorced, slightly overweight, single, working, juggling work and visitation, moving to a bigger city, and doing her best just to stay afloat, housed and clothed and fed. She needed food that was easy and quick, that she wouldn’t have to think about too much, and that would help her shed some pounds. Margarine says it’s better than butter. Low fat yogurt say’s it’s better than regular yogurt. There are all kinds of “diet” cookies and crackers and bars that promise satisfaction of all cravings without any guilt. Never mind the fact that high fructose corn syrup was now on the scene and suddenly we had low fat sugar bombs (back to the above mentioned yogurt). Count calories! No, you only need to count fat grams, keep them under 20 and you’re good to go. Actually, never mind that; you just need to cut out all carbs and you can eat as much sausage and bacon as you want. Have a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a healthy dinner from the freezer section. You get the point; it was a mess.
The result was that a perfectly intelligent, able bodied, reasonably resourced woman was left confused as hell, still overweight, overwhelmed, and afraid of her kitchen. Seriously, she goes in there for ice cream and coffee and that’s about it. (Okay I may be exaggerating a little bit, love you Mom :) )
Now in my years since leaving home I’ve made a pretty radical departure from the way I was raised, one that doesn’t always make for easily shared meals on visits home. I no longer eat meat, hardly ever fry anything, I shun ice-burg lettuce for its dozens of tastier brothers and sisters, and I make just about everything from scratch. I seek out fresh, whole foods, local and organic whenever possible, I boycott big food corporations, study nutrition in my free time, and read cookbooks and food blogs for fun.
I should break for a moment here to say that I have almost no control when ice cream and or cookies, cakes, or pies are placed in front of me, I indulge potato chip cravings, and sometimes nothing satisfies like a cheap, greasy pizza. I’m not perfect and I don’t claim to be. I myself have struggled with my own weight at times, and often allow cravings to steer my actions rather than doing what I know is good for me. I continue to work at it though, and much of why I continue to do the work is because I believe that my struggles make me stronger, and that they can be transmuted to benefit others.
So going back to my mother and my special purpose and the point where this conversation began: I want to help people like my mother, like me, like you, like anyone who's ever been confused, overwhelmed, or just plain tired of thinking about what to eat, to transform their kitchens into places where they feel comfortable and inspired, where it’s easier to grab a healthy home-made snack than a processed one, where a nourishing meal is a simple step or two away, where health is created and disease rooted out. Food is, after all, medicine. When used improperly it leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and even cancer. When used properly, it can prevent and even reverse many of these conditions. Major illnesses aside, a body-mind fed on healthy vibrant food is a happier, healthier, more expansive body-mind.
Last week I started cooking for my first client. This blog is intended to document our work together, and to help build an online portfolio that I may expand and start working with others. In the mean time, peace, health, and happy full bellies to all of you out there reading this!