If other species are aware of seasons of the year and hours of the day, they don’t make a big deal about it. We humans, on the other hand, have arranged our lives around the calendar and the clock, all culminating at midnight, December 31, when one year ends and a new year begins. If that doesn’t mark us as an interesting species, there’s the fact that we observe this big do-over by drinking ourselves silly and kissing anything that moves.
The New Year’s Eve hangovers barely wear off before we’re pacing our cages, eager to get back to the normal rhythm of our lives. And yet, we feel a heightened awareness and expectation. It’s a new year! Everything feels new and fresh, and this is wonderful. Hope and the glimmering of possibility keep us light. Guilt and remorse weigh us down.
And yet guilt and remorse sell. We’re attacked by ads shaming and shouting at us to lose all our holiday weight, join a gym, get six-pack abs. A certain detox or dietary rethink is appropriate after the binging Bermuda Triangle of holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve). However, I dislike being shouted at.
Entering the New Year Gradually and Gently
The new year deserves to be entered gradually and gently, rather than dived into headlong, because the shock alone could kill you. Going from a month of party foods to a diet solely composed of lemon and water is nothing you can stick to, especially when it’s bitter and gray outside. It exacts a toll on your body and soul. It makes you cranky and weak.
Winter tends to make me cranky, anyway. It is winter in my soul, and it’s hard to feel the benevolent force in, well, just about anything. The new year reveals itself to be pretty much like last year, with all the baggage, all the stress, but without December’s sparklies and parties, plus a massive holiday credit card bill to pay off.
This is a good time to go back to bed. Until April. I bury myself in blankets, dutifully close my eyes. My brain will not shut up. “So, Ellen,” it says in that snarky tone it gets when I’m vulnerable. “What happened to your big plans for this shiny new year? You know, achieving world peace, solving global food scarcity. From here, it looks like you’re just lying there. Wasting time.”
Making Absurd Unattainable New Year's Resolutions?
I have made absurd, unattainable New Year’s resolutions. And they only wind up frustrating me and making me feel like a loser. So for quite a few years now, I’ve resolved to embrace chaos. Because it’s coming at us whether we like it or not. I’m still not great at it but have grown more comfortable with the concept; there are things in the world beyond my personal control — oil spills, war, hunger, illness, stuff like that.
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I hate that I can’t fix these things, but I am learning to be — oh, who am I kidding? I’ll always worry. However, because I’m learning to embrace chaos, I’m okay with my own worry. I can even let some of it go. A little.
Taking Comfort in Faith?
I envy people who take comfort in faith — the defined, institutional kind — that God will provide, or if something really wretched happens, it’s okay because it’s God’s will, or — inshallah — that it will happen as Allah wishes. These are especially the times I’d like to ask God, Allah, or whoever’s in charge, just what the hell he’s after.
I’m not entirely sure I believe in God. I understand he/she believes in me, which I find most cheering. I think if there is a God, it’s bighearted despite our quirks and craziness, able to focus on the big picture, see what we’re doing and basically shrug and say, “Oy, what can you do?”
I was raised Jewish, but Reform. Really Reform. My husband, Benjamin, thinks my family’s so Reform, we deserve another category — Mellow. Benjamin was raised Lutheran.
But in both his case and mine, the formal religion part just didn’t take. What resonates with me is the more secular part of Judaism, the concept of tikkun olam, healing the world, the social responsibility part.
Am I Jewish? According to liturgy, yes, but among the list of modifiers I’d choose, vegan and female would come well before it.
Serving Humanity: Doing Small Specific Things
For a long time, I thought the only way I could serve humanity was by running off and joining Doctors without Borders. Just how I, with no formal medical training, was going to help them was a little hazy.
So I started doing small, specific things that didn’t require a visa or medical degree. I joined a massive volunteer effort to help kids plant an organic garden in their public school. We dug up the patchy sod — hard, hot, hand-blistering work. We planted the seeds. We grew fat, red tomatoes, glossy eggplant, and a tangle of greens including callaloo, a green gift from the Caribbean. I showed kids how to cook it. I watched them eat it — a vegetable!
The Way Back Home: Serving the Local Community
The kids liked it, not because it was good for them, but because they made it happen, from planting the seed to harvesting it and braising it with chili and garlic. It’s that sense of ownership, of hey, I’ve got a personal stake in this, that makes food taste good, that gives it value. It’s all about connecting with how our food is grown and sourced, with the planet, and with that great big, mystical thing beyond it. The schoolkids discovered fresh produce; I discovered my own community and that I’m better at working and playing with kids than I’d led myself to believe.
Hanging out at the farmers’ markets, belonging to our local community’s shared agriculture program, working with some amazing chefs and organizations and initiatives that bring what our farmers grow to the people who need to eat it — this is my idea of a good time. I can’t promise it brings me to salvation. But it helps bring me back to myself.
*Subtitles added by InnerSelf
©2013 by Ellen Kanner. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA 94949. www.newworldlibrary.com.
This article is adapted with permission from the book:
Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith, and What to Eat for Dinner - A Satisfying Diet for Unsatisfying Times -- by Ellen Kanner.
Ellen Kanner believes that if we put in a little thought and preparation, every meal can feed not only our bodies but our souls and our communities as well. Warm, wicked, and one-of-a-kind, Ellen offers an irreverent approach to bringing reverence into daily living — and eating. She presents global vegan recipes that call you to the table, stories that make you stand up and cheer, and gentle nudges that aim to serve up what we’re hungry for: a more vital self, more loving and meaningful connections, a nourished and nourishing world, and great food, too.
About the Author
Ellen Kanner is an award-winning food writer, Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, and the syndicated columnist the Edgy Veggie. Her work has been published in Bon Appétit, Eating Well, Vegetarian Times, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and Culinate, as well as other online and print publications. An advocate for sustainable, accessible food, she has served on the Miami boards of Slow Food and Common Threads. Visit her website at http://ellen-ink.com/