This highly unusual and oh, so significant writing takes something we all do every day, several times - eating - and helps infuse this act with a deeply reverent and spiritual consciousness. The book accomplishes this intention by brilliantly and beautifully placing food within an understanding of the earthly and cosmic forces of plant life as well as providing exquisite recipes that transform nature into the art of cooking.
It might be helpful to forewarn you just a bit by urging you to work with the whole of the book. Because of our tendency to compartmentalize our actions, there may be a temptation to look upon this book as two books rather than one - a book on the spirituality of food and a practical cookbook. But Anne-Marie is very clear in what she is doing with this writing. She helps us perceive our bodies, our lives, the world around us, and the larger universe as a whole form of multiple, related activities that come together in miraculous ways through the act of eating. Until we can consciously enter into the miracle of food, we are lost in one popular speculation after another concerning how to eat.
Miraculous is a good word, one I want to introduce as describing the experience you enter as you read this book. The wealth of information that is now available concerning nutrition, calories, carbohydrates, and the thousands of diets available to help us achieve some notion of health and ideal figure, goes beyond anyone's capacity to comprehend. What has been lacking until now is an entirely new way of understanding food and eating. And gosh, no, not another theory that takes on the status of a trend that will change in a year or two!
This writing is far more radical than that. It invites us into the joy of paying attention to the magnificent beauty of nature, not as some brief ecstatic moment of experience, but carefully, lovingly, and continually. As we do so, over time, we develop an entirely new relation to food because we have overcome the spectator perspective and become engaged with being intimately interwoven with the world and, indeed, with the cosmos.
By far the most significant aspect of paying this kind of new attention to the natural world in relation to food and eating is to begin, slowly, to live into the element of rhythm that characterizes the movements of the cosmos, the earth, and the human body. The rhythms of the days, the seasons, the years, of morning, noon, evening, of waking and sleeping, and of expansion and contraction, intertwine with the rhythms of plant life. These natural rhythms and their relationships one to another are severely disrupted, so it is hardly surprising that pathologies of eating are rampant, ranging from the obvious epidemic of obesity to the more secret epidemics of anorexia and bulimia. Neither psychological answers nor fewer carbs nor fast-food lettuce and tomatoes rather than fast-food hamburgers are likely to do much, because all of these ways of trying to address eating pathologies neglect the necessary element of rhythm. More than anything else, this book is about refinding our place in the great natural motions of the cosmos as manifested in the growth of the foods we eat. Eating can be a way of coming home to our place within the cosmos.
The kind of language I am using to open the door to your reading is quite different than the mode of speaking you will find within these pages. Anne-Marie is a gifted writer because she is a gifted observer. There is a term for this kind of engaged, loving, participant observation. It is called phenomenology. The intent of this kind of observing is to allow the phenomenon to reveal itself rather than imposing our constructs and theories in order to understand. This book is full of this kind of observing, and as you read, you will find yourself taken back into the world as it appeared when you were a child-except then you perhaps did not have the words to describe the wonders and mysteries of the unfolding of the plant world.
There is a kind of second innocence to this writing, and for that reason you can trust it without reservation. There is no attempt to convince you of the merits of this way of looking at the world, at food, and at eating. The phenomenon itself convinces, once you can see.
This holistic approach to food is why you must read the book as a whole. If you simply go to the recipes and try them, it is likely that you will soon move on to others in other places. If, however, you study the writing, you will feel the wonders of the world, and the recipes will be flavored by the devoted attention that you now give to the world.
You are about to be refreshingly astounded by a writing on food that concentrates on qualities rather than quantities. There is no mention anywhere in this book about how many calories you should take in or how many carbohydrates. The living world is a world of exquisite and particular qualities. The world of the dead is the world of quantities. Thus, we cannot be nourished by theories of eating that are founded on the imagination of dead things. When we do embrace such views about food and find some results for a while, we are equally astounded to find that the pounds eventually come back. Materialistic approaches to nutrition, food, and dieting can only yield concern for quantities, to the point of obsession. These approaches to food are part of the problem of commodification that they try to address and cannot solve, because the theories of these approaches, which concentrate on food as commodity, exist at the same level as the problem.
When we think of spirituality or "being spiritual," we tend to think of how to be less of this world and more part of a nonmaterial realm. That kind of spirituality does not characterize this book. And, it is true, when you do find nutritional interests among spiritually oriented folk, there is something that tends to be just a little bit wispy about those interests. Often the notion is that it is necessary to purify the body in order to be spiritual. Or it is necessary to refrain from eating meat and meat products in order to be fully spiritual.
The notion of the spiritual realms that you will find in this writing is much more embracing of the world. While the pollution and contamination of foods is certainly something that this book tries to get us to move away from, that has to do with the way in which food has been deadened before it gets to the table, deadened by chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, and chemical preservatives. But the fullness of the world and all that is offered by nature as gift is embraced. What we are given here is food and eating as everyday festival.
A very important transition is made in this writing as Anne-Marie moves carefully from descriptions of plants and the natural world to the art of cooking. The core of this art is to consciously work with the rhythms of the natural world, to intensify them into smell, touch, and taste in such a manner that we are taken even further into being a part of world-rhythm. There is a radical secret here - namely, that if we cook and eat reverently, not with false piety, but genuinely experiencing the cosmic processes of expansion and contraction in the preparation of food, then we are serving the world in our eating. Imagine that! Eating can be renewing for the earth, not just for ourselves! It makes perfect sense. If we are bodily deadened by what and how we eat, then we will perceive the world as mere objects to be used to keep the engine running. If, on the other hand, we see the world in its living activity, feel the connection of this life to the life of the body, and prepare food and eat in relation to these living qualities, we will perceive the earth as a living being: embodied ecology.
While I may seem to pit the artistic qualities of this book against the harsh, quantitative approach of scientific nutrition, I do not intend to oppose art and science. In fact, the kind of observations that fill this book, in many ways, satisfy the most basic aspect of science: to observe carefully and clearly without prejudice. The observations of the plant world described herein satisfy this basic tenet of science.
While this writing is without question also artistic, it might be helpful to clarify how I am using the term artistic. I use it in two senses with respect to this book. By artistic, I first mean that the kind of observation of the natural world, of food, and of eating that characterizes this writing takes place in the realm of feeling. My second use of the term artistic, more in keeping with its usual usage, is the way in which the realm of feeling can be taken up in an act of making, which in this book refers primarily to cooking.
The artistic realm is the realm of feeling. Not emotion, and not personal feeling as "I feel this way or that way." Feeling is a way of knowing, a kind of cognition, not like the energetic reaction of emotion. We know things through feeling that cannot be known in any other way. Think of any of the arts-painting, music, dance, and all the rest. We know the world through these art forms in ways that cannot be known by intellect alone.
Artistic sensibility, however, is not confined to the well-known and structured arts. It can be applied to anything, especially the world of living beings. The living world is inherently feeling-filled. Feelings first belong to the living world, not to us personally. The feeling of the golden wheat in a field, the feeling of the rolling water over rocks, the feeling of the approach of spring, the feeling of the leafing of the plants, of the deep mystery of the root - these are the ways the world is described in this book.
The earth, nature, the cosmos is feeling-filled. And if we can attune our feeling life to the feeling qualities of the world, we become, or can become, scientists in the realm of feeling. We have thus combined art and science.
This book does exactly that. Doing so is inherently life-giving and life-supporting. And then, given this new science, we can imagine even more fully the extraordinary art of cooking. Cooking requires an imagination that can inwardly see all of the feeling processes of the natural world, in detail and not just in some vague, sentimental way. Further, the art of cooking requires the capacity to take the feeling elements of the natural world and not only intensify them, but combine them in new ways, ways unheard of in the natural world—ways that enhance nature, renew the qualities of nature, and equally take us into the quite invisible spiritual qualities of nature. This book works in this manner, and when you carefully read it, you will perceive the natural world anew, and your experience of eating will be completely different, enhanced, elevated.
If we follow through the act of eating to what then occurs in the body, we are taken into the realm of metabolism. In spiritual terms, the metabolism of the body concerns the element of the will. While the connection of metabolism, will, and the body is most apparent in the metabolism of the muscles - how we actually move and get around and do things in the world - it holds equally true for the processes of digestion, and also of reproduction. Not only are we are nourished by food, but it determines the quality of our acts of will in the world.
We are not very aware of this connection until the body becomes once again more sensitive. Taking up the practices within this book does result in an increased bodily sensitivity, where it becomes possible to feel the relation between what and how we eat and the ways we relate with others.
While it might first sound somewhat incomprehensible, eating has moral ramifications. The spiritual approach to food taken in this book inevitably takes us in that direction and toward an understanding of planting, growing, cooking, and eating as an essential aspect of a spiritual path.
Robert Sardello, Ph.D.