The Yoga of Cooking with Cassandra Purdy
Cassandra Purdy is a vegetarian chef with 25 years of cooking experience from Greenpeace ships to shamanic retreats in India to private cheffing in NYC. She specializes in seasonal, farm-sourced foods and loves teaching about how to make cooking part of our spiritual practice, finding the divine in what can seem mundane, sharing the joy of the table, unraveling the mysteries of health trends and food politics while having a good laugh at the same time. Her classes will provide lots of great tips and ideas that will help to transform your pantry and shake you out of your food ruts, providing new go-to tricks of the trade, whether cooking for yourself or family.
The Yoga of Cooking
Eating is a daily necessity for most of us, like breathing and sleeping. But more than a simple biological need it is a chance to express and experience and practice. As Michael Pollan says “we vote with our forks.” There is no other political act that we commit three times a day, our choices in the kitchen affect the world around us, from the microbiology of our gut bacteria to the global impact of factory farming. It is a perfect place to put Gandhi’s principle of ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ into action. Starting at our kitchen tables we can change the world one meal at a time, even if it feels like we are only touching our own household, these choices, like many spiritual practices have ripple effects beyond our vision.
Besides the political impact of our food choices there is the also the opportunity for mindfulness. In the same way that Thich Nat Hahn teaches walking meditation, something as simple a cutting an onion can be an activity that engenders a centered calm and in-the-moment-ness if one takes the time to focus. Cooking for ourselves and loved ones is also an act of devotion and loving-kindness, a form of bhakti. We will discuss kitchen altars, prasad and giving thanks at the table, as well as other ways to bring our awareness back to the divine hidden in the everyday. Too long considered a chore or burden or dismissed as “women’s work” cooking for a family or for oneself can be a pleasure and honor, sharing nourishment is at the very core of what it is to be human. Eating together is a chance for communion and connection.
Mindfulness is one step and intention is another. In the movie “Like Water for Chocolate” maybe you remember the scene where the heartbroken woman cries as she bakes the wedding cake, and those who eat it are also moved to tears? The energy of the farmer passes into the soil. The energy of the soil passes into the carrot. The energy of the cook passes into the salad. The energy of the salad passes into the eater. This chain is of course influenced by endless natural forces such as the sun and moon and rain, but there we are, putting our own crazy human juju into the mix. Trying to be aware of our mood when preparing food is important, to never cook when angry or upset. There are times when this rule is hard to observe, but like many things, once you know it you can’t ignore it, so needing to prepare a meal can be a catalyst for a mood change and meditation when you most need it. When you cook in a state of joy and gratitude it can be felt and tasted in the food. Whether this means being quiet and alone in zen contemplation at your stove or dancing with friends as you all chop veggies to loud reggae with a glass of wine in your hand. Either way, no judgment, there is no “right way”, just bring the good vibes and good intentions to the pot, add your love and stir.
Part of Gaia Weaving is the idea of knitting together our inner and outer world, putting a cohesive sense of philosophy and lifestyle into practice. We all have our weaknesses and blindspots but as we evolve, we strive to be consistent. Yoga isn’t just a work-out, it becomes something that you practice at your cutting board too, an outlook that is with you wherever you go. Permaculture and deep-ecology teach us to see the interconnectedness between all living things, to see the web of life. Everything we do has consequences, but through knowledge and awareness we can try to make positive contributions rather than ones that create suffering. Positive contributions may be things that surprise you, like increasing the healthy bio-mass of the soil by composting, or joining an organic CSA, or stopping buying industrial meat, or giving your kid a new healthy snack that they love. It can seem small, but it matters.
We will discuss the dangers of getting caught up and overwhelmed by the preponderance of food trend propaganda in the world today. Should I be gluten-free, vegan, and paleo? Is dairy okay if it’s from grass-fed cows? Is it normal that I feel great when I eat chocolate? Should I be lacto-fermenting my salad? Do I have to eat chia seeds if they remind me of fish eyeballs? What the hell is maca? How many goji berries should I put in my yogurt? It is all so confusing. We will talk about listening to what the Quakers call “the still small voice within” and being mindful of how we feel when we eat certain foods, excluding the rhetoric about what we should eat. Every body is different and we will talk about tailoring a diet to your own body’s needs. We will also cover the things that are irrefutable facts in the world of nutrition and how to put that knowledge to work for us, with a battery of tricks and tools.
A healthy integrated lifestyle with conscious eating and cooking doesn’t have to be some austere sad affair full of mung beans and grey soups. Changing our diets, and those of our families can be daunting, cooking for kids can be a challenge. We often manifest rejection and resistance in others through our own fears that “they won’t like it.” When food is prepared with confidence and good intentions and is decidedly delicious - even picky eaters will dig in.
The more we align our outward activities with what we inwardly believe, the more we feel balanced and cohesive, amrit (a Hindu concept meaning divine nectar) flows into our bowls.
From seed to salad we must remember all the hands and stooped backs along the way (even our own!) in order to have true connection and gratitude for what we eat. We also must remember that it is a rare privilege to have the abundance that allows us to worry about all these things instead of simply getting enough to eat. A bit of global hunger perspective never hurts when standing in Wholefoods worrying about which coconut oil to buy.
All in all, The Yoga of Cooking is about being conscious and responsible for our choices, sharing love, building community, nourishing the earth and those around our tables and putting knowledge into living practice. Just like sitting down to meditate, or plunging your hands into the soil of your garden, or finding balance in a tricky asana…it is about showing up and doing it, starting where you are, today. Every day is a new chance to make new choices. So many revolutions began in the kitchen, why not yours?