Around two weeks ago, I went to bed with the thought of spending the next day at ‘Bean Me Up’, a vegan restaurant with a delicious menu and an inviting tree cover.
I wanted fresh, nourishing food to be given to me, so that my hours were free to reflect, read, and write. I imagined myself under a canopy of trees, staring leisurely at the sky and gazing at the shrubs and climbers in shades of brown, green, and yellow, while the mind carefully assembled and made sense of recent experiences and observations.
Image courtesy: Bean Me Up, Goa, India
I awoke with the imagined visual in my head, and with something else—a feeling that hadn’t been there when I went to bed. I felt a longing for stillness.
Like a sweet birdsong in a woody enclave, stillness called me to stay. My mind combined this call with the feeling of care and love for the planet: We need to slow down and stop burning fossil fuel at the current rapid rate.
I arrived at a decision to stay home, but not quite that smoothly. My mind tried initially to negotiate a way out of cooking. It longed for free hours and so it chose intermittent fasting as an alternative to the restaurant. But hunger pangs, the habit of drinking coffee, and the taste for freshly roasted coffee with equally fresh non-dairy milk played havoc on the mind. Book turned over, I found myself in the kitchen using precious time to cook, while I yearned to read and write.
This may seem like an unnecessary struggle to a pragmatist. But to me it is an interplay of mind and matter. Love and care is not pragmatic, and neither is it blind. It just strums the strings, if we permit it.
I discovered that hunger, restlessness, longing are part of the strum, as is patience, ever so soft that it is almost inaudible. My eyes grew restful and the mind less agitated. I looked with a quieter gaze at the fairly green setting of my rented home in Goa.
It occurred to me that I am much closer to my food source now than I had previously been: A tree or a plant, benevolent neighbours, and a local village woman, named Dadi (Grandmother), the title by which she introduces herself.
Image courtesy, kyobi.blog – From trees to me, through the benevolence of friends and neighbours: a heartfelt thank you to all and to Dadi.
The coconuts I receive from my homeowner and from M&M (friends at the food forest where I spend part of my day) taste sweeter than those transported over kilometres or miles. Bananas and chikoos/sapotas from my homeowners’ backyard, mangoes from a neighbour’s tree, and bananas and papayas from natureWORKS (the food forest) are juicy and relishable, and the leafy veggies, cucurbits, beans, and parboiled rice from the village market and local farmers deserve a second helping.
I soak and ferment, using the help of microbes to cook wholesome meals of stir fried or curried veggies with a generous sprinkle of fresh and dried herbs for seasoning, accompanied by a single grain, either millet, rice, or roti/Indian flatbread. Most greens I pluck and eat raw—why cook what need not be cooked? It takes me an hour or 90-minutes to get food on my plate, and what is prepared for lunch serves as dinner. Then why did I make cooking an impediment to my mental pursuit?
The strum continued and tuned up with the ambient ‘tymballing’ of cicadas (tymbals are membranes that male cicadas vibrate to create rather a loud sound).
Restlessness ebbed slowly, giving me an unobstructed view of what really troubles me about cooking. Wastage of water tops the list—mechanised methods that draw water from rivers, lakes, and aquifers to pump it up through pipes into tanks, only to bring it down again into taps or faucets to drain into sewers, make little sense.
Our replica of the natural water cycle may have missed considering three important points:
- Evaporation is when water is pulled up naturally, and this is a gradual process
2. Evaporated water is not contaminated but is in fact enriched with atmospheric particles (depending of course on what’s circulating in the atmosphere).
3. Water, when it drops from the clouds onto soil, replenishes and regenerates. It does not need to be treated, chlorinated, and depleted of its life-giving attribute.
Thereon the list consists of the steps that accompany cooking—cleaning the kitchen counter, doing the dishes, scrubbing grime off the kitchen sink, using inefficient gas or electric stoves that release most of the heat they generate into the atmosphere, and moving or standing throughout the process at the kitchen counter, while blood courses through the veins, burning more effectively than the inefficient stove. Cooking is an act of creating. To create is joyful; it brings about regeneration of energy and not dilated blood vessels!
Again I imagine, this time an inspired response to my days at the food forest (natureWORKS in Goa) and to reading, ‘Road Back to Nature,’ by Masanobu Fukuoka, agricultural scientist, philosopher, farmer, and writer.
A process designed for regeneration is designed for wellbeing. They go together, because energy that is applied, produces energy. The form can change but energy remains—it regenerates.
When we apply energy to clean and scrub, it’s not regenerating. We are using up energy reserves given to us by the food we cooked. We are expending our energy. The solution is not a dishwasher or a housekeeping robot; they are conveniences that use energy without regenerating, and therefore are not designed for wellbeing.
Must we continue being bearers, creators, and enthusiasts of a non-regenerative design? Perhaps, we need to acknowledge the flaws to reimagine how we can dwell in wellbeing.
I begin by shifting my perspective to include a principle that Fukuoka explored: ‘Nothing, no matter what it is, has value in and of itself. I understand that the value of food is in the energy it regenerates. That’s why a small seed grain or a vegetable carrying the combined energy of the sun, earth, and living water (untreated, and not pumped and carried over long distances) is more valuable to mankind than food that is over-processed or dead.
What about the kitchen counter and kitchen sink, where lies its value? Perhaps in a design that converts blood coursing to blood circulation. Sitting cross-legged to cut vegetables, clean produce, and knead dough, and building a raised platform closer to the floor so that we can squat and cook is realistic and achievable with effort. As for our replica of the water cycle, most of us cannot reengineer drainage and water systems, but we can try and create some value. With the support of family, we can reduce the flow of water used, rinse and reuse dishes till the end of the day, avoid using flowing water to rinse, cook once a day, eat the same meal twice, and use non-toxic soaps made of organic material that is biodegradable.
And how may we ascertain the value of our effortful acts, which ‘in and of itself’ are pointless? By feeling the strum: if joy is part of the sound then we know that energy is regenerating. If not, then stay still and listen.