Some of you may know that the word diet, from its original Greek origin, refers to more than just what you eat – it actually encompasses a wider meaning, more like your way of life.
Comes from Greek diaita, “a way of life, mode of living.”
So changing your diet involves more than just amending what you eat, it means changing your way of living. For those who are embarking on a change of diet for health reasons, to lose weight or gain weight, I think understanding this broader meaning can help in making your changes more successful.
You may be thinking about becoming a vegetarian, or eating more protein and less carbohydrates, and you may be looking into doing cooking classes to learn more about that culinary dietary approach. I would advise you to remember that it is not just about learning new techniques and recipes - it actually involves a whole new philosophy. A new way of thinking about food, cooking and eating – a new way of being. At this time, if you wish to be successful in your new dietary approach, you need to open your mind and your heart to something beyond what you have been and known before.
Food and what and how we eat are all intrinsically tied up with our earliest beginnings, wound up with psychological spells from our childhood. Many of you would be familiar now with the term “comfort foods,” usually simple dishes or substances that provide emotional succour, by giving us the illusion of returning us to a time when we were little children feeling nourished and safe with mummy. In fact I see many people in the community seemingly permanently locked into these childish diets. The tradesmen still consuming flavoured milk and fast foods, even well into their thirties and forties. The receptionists still eating hot chips and drinking coke for lunch. The many people who are too scared to try anything new and still basically eat what their parents served them, when they were growing up.
You have probably heard the expression, “you are what you eat!” How we eat and what we eat defines who we are, as much if not more than any other factors within our lives. If you are eating mindlessly, processed foods made in factories, then you are not bringing a great deal of consciousness to your diet. My advice is to become aware of who is making your food, as much as what is going into the manufacturing of your food. To really revolutionise the quality of your life, learn how to prepare your own food and learn about good food and real foods. Take control of your life and your body.
The Sacred Chef cooking school on the sunshine coast is a great place to learn about good food and nutrition. We offer more than just new techniques and recipes, we offer an introduction to a new way of living, which is less dependent on processed foods from the supermarket. Making your own food means it tastes a hundred million times better than anything made in some factory for money and you know what is going into it. Awareness changes everything!
As a cooking teacher, who regularly meets people through my cooking classes, here on the sunshine coast, I get to see what a cross-section of society likes to eat and feels comfortable with on their plate. It is interesting to observe shared traits amongst the groups of people, who pass through my cooking school, and it gets me thinking about the whys and why nots. I wonder why most of us tend to eat from a similarly small selection of meals, despite the fact that we now have available in our supermarkets a far greater choice of ingredients than ever before. I think about what food represents, in terms of its psychological ramifications within our lives, and whether these settings can be adjusted.
It seems to me that many of us retain attitudes towards foods, which were garnered in the family home when we were children; and that the apple generally falls close to the tree. If mum and dad liked certain foods and cooked these foods more often, then for many people these influences remain strong throughout their adult lives. A bit like the children, who upon leaving the nest, build their own homes in the same street, suburb or town as mum and dad, keeping extended family close. Food like shelter is a primal need and is intimately tied up with our notion of emotional security.
As we expand the concept of family outwards and it becomes our cultural heritage, food choices again are inextricably linked to our regional and national identities. Here in Australia we can celebrate the rich diversity of our many multicultural strands and this happens most often through experiencing the foods and culinary dishes of these transplanted cultures, like Italian, Thai and Chinese foods – made available by the restaurants and takeaways, which have been created by the sons and daughters of foreign shores.
We are enriched by experience when we allow ourselves to move beyond the close confines of who and what we think we are. Just as our human species is strengthened biologically when we mate and breed outside of those whom we call our own. The cross fertilisation of genes, ideas and even recipes can make us all healthier, smarter and our lives definitely tastier. Our predominantly Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, have unfortunately, cursed many of us somewhat with limited culinary antecedents and if we do not break out of these restrictive walls, then we are condemned to eat poorly and to miss out on the more sublime flavours that life has to offer.
What and how we cook is often a bit like how we make love, we learn from experience a few things and then tend to groove these moves; somewhat unchangingly. Primal activities are a bit like that, not something that we muck about with too much, and what and how we eat falls into this category. We eat to refuel, to derive energy and sustenance from food, but eating is also a profoundly sensual activity. The nerve endings and taste buds inside our mouths feel every morsel as it slides about, and we experience our food in full technicolour, sensorama – if we are lucky enough to be in touch with our full five senses of taste, smell, sound, sight and feel.
So eating is a very personal activity, it is close to who we are, and yet we often eat in public, unlike other intimate activities like sex and going to the toilet. This sharing of the eating experience in communal structures, like cafes, restaurants and workplaces is a ritualised cultural activity. We bring our own mores, likes and dislikes, to this public performance of consumption. I am always reminded of the recounted experience of migrant children in the Australian school yard at lunchtime, as the contents of their lunch boxes were reviled by the Anglo kids because of their peculiar differences. As children we often fear what is not customary and uniform, and unfortunately many of us remain in this childish state, particularly around our foods and what we consider acceptable.
When people form intimate relationships, like marriage and close friendships, they are often confronted with the need to move beyond their culinary comfort zone in a bid to cement the stability of their relationship. The desire to share tastes and flavours is sometimes paramount to couples and their ongoing sense of emotional security. I regularly hear about the compromises being made by one partner or the other, and the effect that the changes to their diets has upon them, both positively and negatively. In fact this can be a major motivating impetus in getting people to come along to my cooking classes. A bit like going into relationship counselling I suppose, with both parties hoping that the inspirational influence of a neutral teacher may magically impart some shift in the culinary status quo of their relationship; and it sometimes does.
Seafood is a commonly held culinary ‘no go zone’, among many of the people who attend my classes. I hear again and again the refrain, “Oh I didn’t know that seafood could taste this way!” Whether they had an unfortunate early experience with a bad cook or perhaps have actually never tried the said example of fish or shellfish, due to the fact that mum or dad likewise had avoided the experience and did not cook these critters at home, the fear based result was the same. We often work out who we are by declaring the things we know that we dislike, “Oh I don’t eat fish, or oysters, or mussels.” I may have made this decision when I was 6 years old but I unquestioningly stand by it today. The walls around this individual are close and in yours and their face, perhaps it makes them feel safe. Eventually however there comes a time when the individual feels somewhat cramped by their stated dislikes, and this is when they often find themselves in one of my cooking classes, either alone or with their partner.
I speculate that the adolescent or young adult who has consciously rebelled against the tastes and predilections of his or her parents, usually has developed a wider and more far-reaching culinary diet – they still may not be able to cook but they may consume more different foods. This individual has broken away from the invisible ties that bind the obedient child to the emotional strings surrounding mummy and daddy. We are all on variable time lines regarding this necessary rebellion, some do it early and some very late, but eventually we all need to break the moorings and swim free; and perhaps then taste the sea.
I have always been passionate about food. It has, in fact, been a cornerstone of my existence. I recognised the signs early on, when I did not come off the bottle (alas breast feeding was out of vogue at this time) until I was about four years old, and I made quite a commotion about it then. That warm white milk spurting forth from that rubber teat was obviously a sensual and nourishing feed. Following that I remember a wonderful meal that mother used to make me, consisting of warm runny soft boiled eggs mashed up with torn crust less fresh white bread and the merest splash of milk and salt & pepper, mmmmm I could murder a bowl now.
Ah food…it is a heady mix of psychological spells wound up in tasty matter. Foods that comfort us, foods that excite us and foods that calm us down. Our palate and our attachments to certain foods are I think all born of a time when we inhabited a yeasty humid world of milk sops and wet nappies. Textural considerations are of utmost importance when discovering dishes that provide us with inner sensual happiness: viscous soups and sauces, gooey eggs and soft steaming scoops of mashed potato, or balls of sweetened sticky rice and slippery steamed dim sum…
Eating food is pleasure and. filling the empty tummy with something very scrummy is best. Pleasure. Is it a universal primary motivation? Or is it simply the avoidance of pain? Is hunger, once satisfied, the end of the matter? Or do we seek to enter that satiation by choosing just what we put in our mouths? The pursuit of pleasure: to achieve sensual gratification. Is it inextricably linked with our need for nourishment? Babies must have succour and must be touched to survive, and thrive to adulthood. Food in my opinion is not just fuel and not simply the sum of its parts. It is more than a list of kilojoules, fats, carbs and proteins. Like love it must be made pleasurable to do its work well.
Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) states:
The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.
The flesh receives as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited time. But the mind, intellectually grasping what the end and limit of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of the future, procures a complete and perfect life, and we have no longer any need of unlimited time. Nevertheless the mind does not shun pleasure, and even when circumstances make death imminent, the mind does not lack enjoyment of the best life.”
However, perhaps Oscar Wilde put it more succinctly when he said, “Pleasure is the only thing to live for.”
Has my passionate relationship with food ever got out of hand? Yes. I was a fat child for a couple of years, and I paid the price with my slim, bordering on acetic father, ridiculing me whenever possible about my new found weight. Lolly addiction was a real problem for me at this time, as my mother, who did not enjoy making cut lunches, would endow me with forty cents tuckshop money and I would invest it at the corner shop in a large white paper bag stuffed with mixed lollies. I would share these with my best friend at the time, Scott Stewart, and he would entertain me with half his lunch, which consisted of sliced white bread sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. . So as you can see my flirtation with food as pleasure flourished a long time ago. Trips to the dentist, despite all that fluoride in the water, were far too common.
Appetite and control. Appetite – the desire to eat until one is full, or to eat a certain kind of food; to experience a particular feeling as that substance slides down your gullet. Control or denial – the decision not to satisfy that desire and to go without, or to distract oneself by exercising; having sex or working. Or to appease or tease, by allowing only one mouthful, or two or three mouthfuls, or just a homoeopathic dose of your bodies desired dish. The sins involving food and the bible’s condemnation of gluttony inhabit us culturally and permeate all realms of our western civilisation. The way fat people are ostracised in our communities and portrayed in popular media as sad laughing stocks, and perhaps we all secretly feel that our derision will inspire them to lose weight and return to the company of the slim.
Can you remember the power of the lolly? Or do you have children who have reignited your experience with this over whelming obsession with these sugared jewels? The startling variety of colours, shapes and flavours. Surely these are the building blocks of taste experience for us all, as we sit quietly on the footpath outside the local deli sucking upon that first lozenge of truth. Milk bottles; musk sticks; bananas and sherbets, cobbers, raspberries, snakes and jelly babies, just to name a few of these highly desirables. Of course these addictions were managed in a cloak of normality, whilst competing at sport and doing homework, but always at the core of the pleasure principle was the lolly… and for me pleasure was life. I remember going to visit my maternal grandfather who was a doctor and lived in another geographical state, and he had a huge jar of jelly babies on top of the fridge. I thought this was great as we didn’t have anything like this at home and he was a doctor after all. Such was the alluring power of the lolly that it permeated even the highest levels of society…
Later, working in a liquor store I came upon that same phenomenon again; but this time for adults. Shiny bottles of spirits and wines were their lolly equivalents. I could feel their hardly suppressed excitement as they fingered the bottles and read those colourful labels with gleaming tiny gold and silver medals stuck to them. Big spenders would choose their mixed dozen and then stand in the check out queue, quietly bubbling with childlike joy. Alcoholics; drug addicts and sugar fiends we are all dependent on the balance between our appetites and controls, and the psychology of our passions. What did the Buddha say, “that all life is suffering and suffering is caused by desire.”
What about the neurological pleasure systems in the brain? Well, quoting Michael A Bozarth from the University of New York’s Dept of Psychology:
“Neurological research has identified a biological mechanism mediating behavior motivated by events commonly associated with pleasure in humans. These events are termed “rewards” and are viewed as primary factors governing normal behavior. The subjective impact of rewards (e.g., pleasure) can be considered essential (e.g., Young, 1959) or irrelevant (e.g., Skinner, 1953) to their effect on behavior, but the motivational effect of rewards on behavior is universally acknowledged by experimental psychologists.
Motivation can be considered under two general rubrics—appetitive and aversive motivation. Appetitive motivation concerns behavior directed toward goals that are usually associated with positive hedonic processes; food, sex, and wine are three such goal objects. Aversive motivation involves escaping from some hedonically unpleasant condition; the pain from a headache, the chill from a cold winter’s night are among the list of conditions that give rise to aversive motivation. The notion that hedonic mechanisms might provide direction to behavior can be traced at least to the Greeks (e.g., Epicures); Spencer (1880) formalized this notion into psychological theory and suggested that two fundamental forces governed motivation–pleasure and pain. Troland (1928) suggested that pleasure was associated with beneception, events that contributed to the survival of the organism (or species) and thus ‘benefited’ the organism from an evolutionary biology perspective; pain was suggested to be associated with nociception, events that had undesirable consequences for the organism. This schema—emphasizing hedonic processes in the regulation of behavior—lost favor with the advance of the Freudian and later behavioristic schools, although variations on this theme have occasionally resurfaced among motivational psychologists (e.g., Bindra, 1969; Young, 1959). “
Hedonism then appears to be something that we should understand. The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary defines hedonism as “belief in pleasure as the highest good and mankind’s proper aim.” Personally I have been a big fan of hedonism and have lived my life as hedonistically as possible. However, having been brought up in a Christian /Presbyterian household, where hedonism was given a pretty bad name, it was necessary to throw off the shackles of the church’s wowserism and to embark single mindedly upon the pursuit of pleasure. I imagine that many people reading this have felt similarly about their lives in terms of giving to themselves and grasping the true meaning of ‘charity begins at home – and in my case the kitchen.
One of the most fulfilling aspects of cooking that I have found is making up new dishes. When you are cooking everyday for hundreds of people, and although often making batches of the same dishes, it is in my nature to want to break out and try something completely different. I was at this stage in my own little restaurant cum takeaway in King St Newtown and like many young people I found pleasure in novelty and variety. I had one particular customer, who by tacit arrangement, would receive whatever I could challenge myself to come up with. A dish or plate created right then and there with no prior thought, and as luck would have it, he would often arrive at the busiest possible time during service. I would be swearing sweating and smiling, (we had an open kitchen), and making haste with the pans. Usually the result would be rather good, and although frazzled by the experience it was ultimately rewarding. Creativity can be a hard task master, especially when you operate out of chaos. Cooking is however one of the few great arts that you physically put inside yourself, try eating a painting for instance.
So food has always been important to me and although when I first began cooking professionally I had not really recognised that, as I always thought that it would be something I would do until I found my true vocation. Cooking was not the supposedly glamorous job, that it is perceived to be today. Then, no, it was just another trade but I found it to be a very satisfying one. It was essentially creative once you had mastered technique, each day I would be challenged to come up with new and diverse dishes. Regular trips to the Flemington produce markets would have me coming across vegetables that I had never seen nor heard of. What does one do with a box of Kasava?
This turned out to be a thankfully humorous failure, as I was working as the head cook in the Rajneesh commune in Darlinghurst back in the early nineteen eighties. Each day I would make a buffet selection of vegetarian dishes for around hundred and fifty orange clad disciples of the master. After a previous stint in the Zorba the Buddha restaurant in Taylor Square, where I had learnt the basics, it was going pretty well. On this particular day with my box of newly found treasure; the Kasava Root, which is grey and looks like a cross between white sweet potato and really old ginger, I was challenging myself to present a rare and tasty experience for my fellow devotees, who, it must be said, worked long and hard, albeit joyous hours in the service of the master and our own spiritual ideals; and were generally a hungry lot. It was dinner, and as an accompaniment to baked spinach and fetta filo pie I thought I would roast my Kasava similarly to how I would treat sweet potato. So into the oven on a baking tray brushed with olive oil went my Kasava, salted and peppered and ready for a juicy bake. Forty minutes later I checked my Kasava to find it still hard as wood but a little singed, and after an hour an a half these burnt roots were like charred bits of four by two. This stuff was a mystery. Next night, after humble apologies to my waiting guests, I decided to tackle this Kasava on a different front and into my large boiling pan I deposited the remainder of the box, covered in salted water. I set a match to my gas burner and plonked down the heavy pan for some serious cooking; to make tender this obstreperous root. What wonder, what reward would my meditating family be in for now that I had found the culinary key? Well after a seemingly adequate time of cooking, I lifted the lid to discover a grey steaming sludge of fibrous matter that I would not classify as cuisine of any type that I was even remotely familiar with. Once again I apologised to the hungry and the meal was serve… sans Kasava. My foray into the exotic world of Kasava was at an end, and I satisfied myself with vegetables of a more common nature. What do you do with Kasava I hear you say? Well from Africa & Fiji come these recipes:
3cups.(or 2lbs.) grated kasava or manioc root
1cup. shredded frozen fresh young coconut
1 12 oz. jar of Macapuno Balls
1/3cup. evaporated milk
1 14 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1/3cup. whole milk
1/2cup. white sugar
1cup. light brown sugar
1tbsp. melted butter
Mix everything together, and bake in a buttered 9 X 13 inch pan for 2 hours at 325 degrees.
Method 1. Peel the kasava and put it in a basin of water.
2. Grate the kasava in a large basin.
3. Scrape 4-6 coconuts and squeeze out the juices.
4. Heat sugar in a pot until melted, then add the lolo and stir it, until it is thick enough, remove from the heat and cool it.
5. Put the grated kasava in a ‘vasili’ leaf and wrap around and then tie it properly.
6. Heat a pot of water till it boils, put the wrapped kasava in and cook for 1 hour.
7. When the kasava is still hot, beat it with a clean wooden stick so that it becomes soft.
8. Roll into balls and dip it into the basin of cooked lolo.
Appeared in WellBeing Magazine