The Kundalini master, Yogi Bhajan used to say, “We’re human Beings, not human Doings.” In modern life, how many of us take the time to stop doing and be? We cling to our routines and have endless distractions at our fingertips -- so much that it's beginning to change our brains. In yoga, we remind ourselves to pause, not to tune out but to tune in to what we are, to the present...to be. This theme of returning to our nature is found throughout yoga philosophy, and also in modern discourse on food. It becomes increasingly difficult to be present with our food when we are so removed from its creation or its source.
When we learn where our food comes from, how it is grown, cultivated, prepared and cooked, we make the connection between food and our being. Study after study has shown the single most predictive indicator of good health is whether or not we cook for ourselves. Preparing our food consciously leads us to make better choices. It really is as simple as 'we are what we eat.'
In cooking, of course there is much to do, as with yoga. The doing is to prepare and to practice. One of most basic lessons I learned in chef school is to prepare the mise-en-place. This is the French term for everything in its place, or prepping, measuring, chopping all of your ingredients and setting up your space. This simple act of preparing is so essential because it allows us to be present when we're ready to create. We don't need to hunt down that ingredient or worry about our ratios when everything is in its place. Mise-en-place, like the practice of asana yoga is never the goal. They are doings of preparation so that we can be (the goal or intention). Too often we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the doing, we forget that it is all practice to get to the being. We tell ourselves the story that we don't have time to cook. Studies have shown that on average we spend far less time today in the kitchens preparing food than past generations. Is it that we really don't have time to cook, or is it that we don't make it a priority? I recognize it can be difficult, because most of us are not taught how to practice the art of time management in the kitchen. I never understood the value of mise-en-place until I went to culinary school. It was daunting, at first, because it was new and it took a lot of time. I wanted to dive right in but I didn't realize that it takes practice to be well prepared to be a cook. The more I chopped veggies, the better I became at knife skills. It used to take me several minutes to prep an onion, now I can finely mince one without crying. Anyone can learn, even without going to school. As with yoga, everything takes practice.
We are lucky that we live in the age of information and can find out how to do almost anything through youtube how-to's or blogs. This morning I heard an encouraging story about new classes on cooking as part of a college curriculum. The wonderful thing about practicing with others or as part of school is that it helps build confidence and makes it easier to practice.
Even if you think you don't have time to prepare something, challenge yourself to find something simple you can practice that will help you be present with your food. For some, this could be being a more health conscious shopper rather than a more skilled chef (e.g. watch this great 'how to navigate the supermarket' with Michael Pollan). There is no one path that leads to being present. Any form of practice will help us find our mental mise-en-place.