We find joy in foods. For many people life without their favorite treats and dishes would be a life without joy. We steal moments at work to daydream about what we are going to eat when we get home. Many of us plan our days around meal times and in social gatherings food is the highlight of the event.
I have been eating predominantly raw vegan for the past two years now. Most people cannot even conceive of the idea of giving up animal products, let alone cooked food. To them it sounds like an existence of eternal hunger, insatiable cravings and misery, some form of perverted self torture. Many question whether I am actually even enjoying life as a raw vegan. “C’mon, live a little!” they say, and “I prefer to enjoy life”.
This as I see it, is a great tragedy.
From my perspective, people who say those things are not actually living their lives to the fullest or they would not attribute so much of the joy of living to eating specific foods. Sure it’s nice to plan for a delicious meal and then sit down to devour it in a good company. I do that too. However, as I see it, this should not be what determines the quality of our lives.
Have you ever been so immersed in a project that you forget to eat? Have you ever been so deeply present with your task at hand or even with another person (as when in love) that the joy of eating completely loses its importance? Have you ever watched a child play until the late evening, ignoring the calls of his mother to come eat, until finally, overcome by exhaustion and hunger, he comes, and having barely eaten his food, he runs back to what he was doing?
We have all experienced this state of being as children, but as we grow older these moments become farther and fewer in between, and we start seeking satisfaction from entertainment and physical pleasure. We quite literally forget what is means to be alive. Then, in the search of the fading feeling of aliveness we grasp onto things like food, sex, alcohol and TV, yet never quite reaching that vague feeling that we are longing for.
When we are in the flow of life, nutrition becomes secondary to the bliss of being in the now, to experiencing life itself. Food becomes simply a means to provide fuel to the body so that we can immerse ourselves in creativity and a multitude of other experiences. Most children are in this state of being, directing their attention to anything and everything around them, letting their imaginations guide them, completely uninterested in food until the moment their stomachs crumble or someone calls them for dinner.
This is not to say that we cannot continue to enjoy food, it is simply about putting food back to its place and not giving it the power it does not merit.
To give you an analogue, think of a drug addict who is completely dependent on heroin, and is always in search of the next shot, and cannot imagine living without it. Imagine that this addict tells you that you are depriving yourself of pleasure and not enjoying life to the fullest unless you take heroin too. You understand that their perspective is distorted. You know that there is more joy to life beyond drugs and that in fact, it is the drugs that keep them from accessing the full experience of life.
This example may sound extreme and exaggerated, but think about it for a moment. Howe many people say that they could never give up cheese for instance, deriving immense pleasure and satisfaction from eating it, while spending the rest of their waking time in a state of apathy and boredom?
The drug addict analogue is my way of demonstrating how many of us with a seemingly strict lifestyle and an ambitious detox regime see those who tell us to “live a little” or that “they prefer to enjoy life” in the form of pizzas and beers. With this I invite you to look through my eyes and see my perspective. My idea of living a full life goes beyond momentary physical pleasure and has more to do with self-actualization and personal expansion. It has to do with experiencing the full spectrum of my emotions, which are often suppressed by heavy foods, and without which we do not have access to the full experience of life.
This is the whole point of what I’m saying: there is a trade off in seeking pleasure mainly in foods. Most of our go to comfort foods, such as refined sugar, carbohydrate rich foods (bread, pasta, cake) and fatty foods are very sedating and they suppress our emotions, giving us a quick but short lived relief. The trade off is that as we get relief, we lose touch with what is actually happening inside of ourselves. Unpleasant emotions are like warning signs, signaling that we are moving to a wrong direction or that something needs to be changed. If we suppressed the signals, we will not make the needed changes and we continue drifting off the course. The farther we drift, the stronger the signals will get, and the more we will have to suppress them, until we can no longer feel ourselves at all. At this point, we are completely out of touch with what we are meant to be doing with our lives, and we sink into apathy, frustration or even depression.
It’s really not that different from the addict, to whom facing the pain of their reality is too much to handle, so they seek relief in drugs which sedate them into a comforting fluffy place, until the effect wears off. It’s the same with food. The only difference is that we are still able to function in society and therefore it’s socially accepted. Just like the addict, we use food to escape unpleasant emotions and to distract ourselves from the haunting feeling that our lives are empty and devoid of purpose.
Letting go of sedating foods has given me the gift of feeling myself again. As I progress to eat cleaner and cleaner, I find myself giving up things that are not beneficial to my health, such as alcohol, coffee and salt. I also find myself changing how I spend my days because I can register subtle signals in my body and emotions that indicate that I need a rest, that I need peace and quiet, or that I need physical touch. I no longer push myself to exercise when it doesn’t feel self-loving, and I no longer pretend that I am strong and able to do everything alone. I started meditating again, and I take time to withdraw and do art when I feel overwhelmed. I no longer go to bars and public places that have heavy energies, and instead prioritize time in the nature.
So tell me, you might think, what is the full experience of life that goes beyond food, sex and entertainment, that you talk about? Becoming increasingly self aware, feeling ourselves and others deeply, expanding our understanding of life, gaining access to intriguing knowledge, exploring our physical limits and possibilities, making the world a more loving place, finding a life path that feels fulfilling, being recognized in our gifts and our excellence, learning, integration and healing, feeling inspired, energetic and simply good in our bodies, and most of all, learning to be present in the here and now.
This, for me, is what life is about. Not the cheese cake.