What is nourishment?

In the past decade we’ve placed SO much emphasis on whole foods, clean foods, paleo vs. vegan, gluten-free, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant... I think we’re there already, don’t you? We know what healthy eating is. ENOUGH ALREADY! I want to move beyond the research, the data, the shoulds, the restrictions (and the ensuing guilt), and plant my flag right here: are you really being nourished by what you eat?

What is nourishment?

I’ll always remember the first retreat I cooked for at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program in Bolinas, California in 2000. With transient taste changes and discomfort resulting from treatment, people with cancer may eat so little they become malnourished. My challenge was to provide appealing, healing, tasty food. (In fact, this became a centerpiece of my culinary work.) It wasn’t just about nutrition; it was about comfort and nourishing these beautiful people on a very deep level. I rose to the occasion, and watching their faces as they took tentative bites and responded with closed eyes and blissful expressions was unforgettable! That’s nourishment. Deep comfort and delight. I’ve been signing my books “nourishing thoughts” ever since.

Let’s focus on nourishing ourselves.

A lettuce leaf with a slice of avocado or a shot of wheatgrass juice won’t do the trick. Something that penetrates deeper into yourself and your senses is needed for nourishment.

One of the ways I think about nourishment: what makes you feel really good when you eat it?

Picture being served homemade soup, or making soup and sharing it. That does it for me. But—

What nourishes you? Nourishment is a very personal thing. What is nourishing to you might not be nourishing to someone else. What’s your thing? You can tell me. :)

I find myself issuing permission slips to people when it comes to food. Because of something they’ve read, they were told, the media said, whatever their best friend is doing, they may contract around eating. Everyday there’s another study that’s coming out and villainizing something. In the face of this information onslaught, you’ll need to tune inside to perceive what the food is that you feel truly nourished by.

If you answer a big bowl of ice cream, well yes! I herewith offer you a permission slip to have a big bowl of ice cream. One thought I might suggest: do it mindfully. Notice how you feel after you take the carton out of the freezer and eat the entire thing in front of the TV, barely tasting it. And after you experience first the sugar high and then the crash, along with the bloating. Do you feel nourished, or not so great?

What if instead you make a pretty treat with a small scoop of the best organic ice cream you can afford in a favorite tea cup or bowl, sit down and mindfully savor each bite? Do you feel crummy? Or nourished?

Make choices. Negotiate. I’m not going to eat ice cream in front of the TV every night and feel terrible about it. I’ll savor a lovely treat once a week, eat mindfully, and not feel contracted and guilty. I’ll feel...nourished.

Look at your whole food world. How much color are you eating?

This is a great gauge. People I’ve worked with or talked to who incorporate more color into their food lives are surprised about how GOOD they feel. This is not a preachy thing—it’s an observation. I’ve been saying this forever: turning that black and white food world into technicolor helps you feel nourished.

I know myself that as much as I wish that I could eat a sourdough baguette slathered with European-style butter and sea salt, I would be in a coma! So that is not MY nourishment.

That could be someone else’s nourishment, if they eat that and feel grounded and fine. Again, not a judgement—an observation.

I am a certified spud lover, but I’m very discerning about my potatoes! You’re not telling ME I can’t eat potatoes anymore just because people dis them these days! They are soul-satisfying, comforting, scintillatingly delicious, and full of extraordinarily healthful properties. But if I’m eating fries, they better be fabulous! (Read A paen to potatoes.)

Let’s employ our intuition.

Enough already with the beating up and the proselytizing we do about food! Like everything else in life, use your intuition (along with your education) to find what’s right for you. Nothing to beat ourselves up about here.

I don’t do well with wheatgrass shots or green smoothies. I’m better with cooked greens and warm foods, especially in the winter. That’s just me! Some people do really well with raw. I can do it in the summer. Some people are juice people, and feel amazing after they’ve had a green juice. I’m a soup person. I feel great after eating my green soup.

Especially people who are going through an illness. Sometimes they have to reconnect with food in a way that nourishes them. In a way that we would say, are you kidding? Like my friend who was sick for a month and living on broth. When he was ready to eat real food, the first thing he wanted was a potato chip! He’s a crispy, crunchy person. There is no reason to deprive himself of that.

Nourishment is a state of mind.

If you feel really afraid of a food that you think is bad, oh boy, it won’t go down well. So many people I know go on vacation and travel, open up their food world, and feel really feel nourished. There’s something about being relaxed that helps you feel marvelously nourished.

But between you and me, I’ve decided that if I make it to 80, I’m having a piece of sourdough bread! :)

Nourishing recipes

From the straight-up healthy to the decadent.

Clean Green Soup (1) (3).jpg

This is a deliciously creamy green soup, so it has the dual power of health and yum! The flavor enhancers are onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest, with a yellow potato blended in. Nourishment in a bowl.

Toasty Spiced-Potatoes (1).jpg

Fingerling potatoes coated in olive oil, sea salt, and fresh-roasted and ground spices add up to heaven on a plate—or so say the potato critics in my crowd, and they’re not an easy bunch to please. :)

Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffles.jpg

THIS was a star recipe in my Healthy Mind Cookbook because it’s dates, cherries, and walnuts, smothered in CHOCOLATE, rolled in coconut and curry, AND it’s marvelous for boosting memory and mood. One bite and you’ll be hard pressed to feel any stress.

And about that bowl of ice cream…

DESSERT_CASHEW-SCREAM-ICECREAM_010.jpg

I love this delicious guest recipe from Andrew Weil, MD’s Fast Food, Good Food. He says,

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” But this scrumptious frozen dessert is vegan. The richness and buttery like flavor of cashew milk are just right for creating a quick and satisfying frozen treat.

THE KEY QUESTION IS: WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL NOURISHED? IT GOES WAY BEYOND FOOD, OF COURSE. A MOVIE WITH A FRIEND MIGHT BE WONDERFUL! BUT, DO TUNE IN AND OBSERVE WHAT FOODS MAKES YOU FEEL GREAT.