For years, I struggled with the apparent dichotomy of being a yogi, an Ayurveda specialist and a foodie.
I was a foodie first. Really, I was a foodie before being a foodie was a thing. I came from a long line of gourmets. My grandparents were part of the early food & wine culture in New York City in the ‘60s and ‘70s. My grandfather had a wine cellar and was president of the New York chapter of the Physicians Food & Wine Society for years. They hung out with the likes of Craig Claiborne and Julia Child and traveled the world to eat amazing meals. They prepared four-course, sit-down Christmas dinners, each course meticulously paired with the perfect wine, by my grandfather. They threw big lobster parties in our backyard in Montauk, with multitudes of friends and relatives driving out from the City for the festivities. When I was 16, they took me to Europe for six weeks. While we did a lot of the usual touristy things, on the days that we dined, we DINED. They took me to Cafe Girardet, in Crissier, Switzerland, at the time, considered to be the finest restaurant in the world. We drove two hours to get there, had a five hour meal, and drove two hours home. It took up the entire day! In my teenage mind, I found that absurd, but I didn’t complain about the food!
While my parents were not the extreme foodies that my grandparents were, they always cooked from scratch, had a garden, and we always had a sit-down family dinner, a time that we’d eat, talk and laugh. After dinner my Dad would often break out a piece of parmigiano-reggiano, pour some olive oil on it, and wash it down with the rest of his Bolla Valpolicella.
My memories of food in my childhood are good memories, cherished memories.
I inherited my grandparents’ love of cooking, food and wine, as did my sister. Maybe it skips a generation? I started cooking for my roommates in college and afterwards. I started working in restaurants and gravitating towards other food & wine lovers. We’d cook big meals together or go to great restaurants whenever we could. I ended up marrying a chef. Then we were the ones throwing the big, elaborate, fabulous Christmas dinners. By this time, I was in the wine business, so between the two of us and our foodie friends, we threw a hell of a party. And we did it often.
As many others did, I started dabbling in yoga in the mid-nineties. When my daughter was born in 2003, I started taking my yoga practice much more seriously. In 2007, I became a yoga teacher and in 2010, I started studying Ayurveda. Yoga became, and still is, my spiritual practice. I grew up without any religion, and while I never felt drawn to any organized religion, I felt drawn to spirit. Yoga filled that void for me. (More on that in a future post.)
People started asking me how I dealt with the contradiction of being a yogi and being in the wine business. At first I didn’t see it as that. Yoga and wine are both ancient and both have deep ties to God and Spirit. But, then it did start to concern me. As my then-husband’s drinking became problematic, I experienced the damage that alcohol can do to a family. As a mother, I wanted to feed my child healthy meals and as a yoga practitioner, I wanted to be healthy. I still do.
I tried all the things. Vegetarian, vegan, Ayurvedic, Paleo, Paleovedic, Keto, Keto-cycling, Intermittent fasting. All are good, healthy ways to eat. Not all are for everyone; we all need to find the diet and lifestyle that best fits us.
I left the wine business and went to work for an Ayurveda company. Unfortunately, the person I worked for took Ayurveda to an unhealthy extreme. But, I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought I was just a gluttonous yogi and that I had to change.
The Ayurveda/yoga community I was in, had some pretty rigid rules:
Eat a tiny dinner at 4pm or skip it altogether OK. If your family isn’t into that, you do it, then just sit with them and sip tea while they eat. Sure. That’s not weird.
Give up drinking wine. Altogether. You can’t be healthy if you drink wine, or any alcohol for that matter. Okayyyy.
Ayurveda doesn’t use garlic or onions. But, wait. I’m Italian!
Don’t eat if you’re not hungry. That makes sense. Eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day. I’m not hungry then. Do it anyway.
What about the family dinner? The bonding over breaking bread together, that humans have been doing for millennia? There are other ways to bond, I was informed. While that is absolutely true, and I partake in many of those activities – taking walks, hanging out, snuggling – those things don’t make the family dinner any less important.
If you have any body fat, you’re not a real yogi. Now that is utter bullshit.
Let me be clear, Ayurveda is not this rigid. Neither is yoga. But the yoga/Ayurveda community I was in, was. Or at least they were striving to be. While there are some people who do best with a rigid approach to eating due to certain health issues or a predisposition to disordered eating, I think most people do not. And I know that I do not. This doesn’t mean that I don’t follow Ayurvedic guidelines or eat healthily. I do. I eat seasonally; Spring brings bitter greens that cleanse the heaviness of winter, summer is the time to eat lightly and enjoy the bounty of fruits and vegetables, fall and winter bring rich, warming soups and stews, a little more animal protein and root vegetables. I also eat locally as much as possible, frequenting my farmers market and purchasing my dairy, meat and even maple syrup from Wisconsin producers. (The latter being a tough move for someone who lived in Vermont for a decade!)
Ayurveda prescribes a dinner that is smallish and early. And I mostly subscribe to this theory. That does not mean that dinner has to be close to nonexistent. But if I am particularly hungry or haven’t eaten much during the day, dinner is sometimes bigger. Sometimes later. And that’s ok. On the other end of the spectrum, if I’ve had a bigger, later lunch and I’m not hungry, I am happy to skip dinner altogether. Ayurveda is all about learning what’s best for you. Learning to eat when you’re hungry, not just because the clock says it’s mealtime.
I hope that you are seeing that I am not rejecting Ayurveda; quite the contrary. What I’m sharing with you is what has taken me so long to come to terms with – Ayurveda and Foodieism do not have to be mutually exclusive. One can follow Ayurvedic guidelines and still eat amazing, sometimes indulgent food. And being a foodie is not about being a glutton; it’s about sourcing and eating the highest quality, fresh ingredients and creating delicious meals from them. It’s about the pleasure of eating, the experience of dining and connecting over food.
I recently returned to restaurant work, after years away. It’s so refreshing to be around people who are passionate about food and wine. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed people who “ooh and ahh” as they eat and who want to talk endlessly about the qualities of a particular wine. Those are my peeps! And I’m happy to be with them. One of my new co-workers (and fellow yogi) said to me the other day, “A meal without wine is like a life without love.” He was only being partially facetious. Passion for food and wine is part of who I am, just like being a yogi is who I am. I tried to squelch that passion for years. I am so glad that I’m no longer doing that.
Food & wine might not be your thing. I’m not pushing it on you. What I am encouraging you do do, is not squelch your passion, whatever that may be. I’ll be writing more about that in future posts. Until then….
Salute & Bon Appetit!