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The Flavor of Life

by Mary Beth Janssen
edible plants

The world holds over 50,000 edible plants but we eat only about 150 of them as part of the standard diet

Summer is here and we are in the throes of this ecstatic season, with gardens blooming, flowers exploding, fruits ripening. It’s a lovely time to remind ourselves of the pleasurable aspects of our food choices, and expand our palates into new territories. A time to explore more deeply that which creates, builds, nurtures our annamaya kosha (yoga-speak for the layer of the physical body), and naturally affects our nervous system (communication central), including brain function and moods.

Healthy eating is not about deprivation, but about enjoying the highest-quality food possible. Savor that decadent dessert, a steak from grass-fed beef, a glass of fine wine, a plate of pasta and some freshly baked bread. Mindfully enjoy these delectable treats, but make sure they are whole, organic choices wherever possible, and part of an overall balanced nutritional lifestyle. Also strive to purchase locally or regionally grown foods, visit your local farmers market, get to know your local farmers (localharvest.org) and join a CSA (Community Supported Agricultural subscription).

Summer also brings the possibility of growing your own food, whether in a plot out back, the local community gardens or even on your windowsill. What a joy, to plant your hands in prana-rich, vibrant earth, grow your own food and create a vital and sacred connection with your food. It’s the mindless overconsumption of foods we have no connection to—foods that are chemically grown and heavily processed, and void of the life force energy—that creates our greatest challenges.

True Exploration

Enjoying natural, unadulterated, delicious foods stretches our palates. Strive to eat as wide a variety as possible to optimize nutrition. This sounds reasonable enough, but how about broadening your definition of variety by eating foods and cuisines you’ve never tried before? Did you know that the world has over 50,000 edible plants but we eat only about 150 of them as part of the standard diet? Twenty of these account for about 90 percent of our food. Three of them—rice, corn and wheat—make up half our diet.

Welcome New Culinary Delights

On your next trip to the grocery or farmers market, resolve to bring one or two new tastes home that you’ve never tried before. Perhaps you’ve experimented with greens like kale, mustard, beet, endive, escarole or chard. Try more unusual veggies such as kohlrabi, artichokes, sunchokes, Napa cabbage, snap peas, yams or Chinese cabbage. Dabble in root vegetables like turnip and parsnip.

Try different grains, perhaps quinoa, amaranth, barley, spelt, kamut, sprouted—and flours like coconut and almond. Try wild or basmati rice. Enjoy tahini (sesame butter), and almond or hemp butters. Add new herbs and spices to your pantry: lemongrass, cardamom, turmeric, ginseng, saffron, curry. Buy exotic fruits, such as kiwi, mango, papaya, starfruit or tangelo. Look for new cheeses and try edible flowers, such as nasturtium for its peppery flavor and surprisingly sweet carnation petals or sorrel flowers for a tart, lemony taste.

Be Adventurous

There are so many palate-expanding foods out there. Keep a “beginner’s mind,” which engenders an attitude of wonderment, curiosity and open mindedness. Really learn how to “taste” the good life through exquisite food choices.

Gift yourself that new piece of kitchen cookery or gadget—the air fryer to whip up some magically light and crispy fried chicken or snacks with little or no oil. Perhaps that cast iron pan, to create everything from caramelized roasted veggies, to coconut flour dinner rolls. Everything we speak of here is anti-inflammatory eating at its best, which is totally having its moment right now. Inflammation-fighting ingredients like ginger, turmeric, coconut oil, milk thistle and moringa are cropping up in everything from gourmet restaurants to juice and coffee bars.

Do some reading, look into new cookbooks, ask friends for recommendations and investigate recipe, herb and spice sites on the Web. Good and healthy food is such a divine topic for conversation anytime, anywhere.

And remember, we digest, metabolize and assimilate all of life’s experiences into who we are, into our mind-body physiology. Because eating is one of these experiences, it should be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Eating with appreciation for the nourishment you take in increases your ability to assimilate nutrients. The opposite is also true: Eating when you’re stressed-out, rushed or in a dark mood makes your digestive system function far less efficiently. How often have you had heartburn, gastrointestinal upset, bloating or general malaise after a particularly heavy meal?

As we return to eating as a sacred ritual and an agricultural act, pure goodness from the earth, a major shift happens in our attitude and our energy. Eating well becomes a celebration.

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