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Nourishing Self and Others

Clean eating to be more than a health practice; it can be a spiritual practice.

Grow
watering can and garden

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I grew up on a farm and learned from an early age where our food came from.  I helped with planting, harvesting, and canning fruits and vegetables.  I gathered eggs and milked the cows. I watered and fed the animals that we raised for food, not as pets. We never had lots of money or owned fancy things. In fact, many of our toys—and even our clothes—were handmade.  But we were never lacking for food.

In spite of having an abundance of food, my parents had a strict rule—food was never to be wasted. I can still hear what my dad would say when there was even a hint about throwing food away, “Think about the poor starving people in other parts of the world.”  Over the years, these words have helped me be more mindful of what and how I eat. This mindfulness has nurtured in me a sense of gratitude, but it has also deepened my concern for others.

Today, as I attempt to make clean eating a part of my daily life, I think about the many people around the world who don’t have enough to eat. While I appreciate the value of clean eating to a healthy lifestyle and am aware of its potential contribution to a healthier planet, I think about how we might deepen and expand the practice by sharing what we have with others. As individuals, we might not be able to solve the global food scarcity problems, but there are things we can do to make a difference. I’ve been inspired by some people who are doing this without a lot of fanfare.    

I have some gardening friends in Olympia who take advantage of the rain and mild climate there to grow an abundance of fruits and vegetables in plots and pots around their home. They converted most of their once grassy backyard into an apple orchard on one side and a vegetable garden on the other side.  Every year, they grow far more than what they can eat. Instead of setting up a roadside stand to make a little money, they donate their extra produce to a local food kitchen. They donate their time, as well, as they realize that cleaning and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables is more time consuming than cooking pre-packaged foods.  

Eden Place in Illinois is another example of people sharing the joy of clean eating with others. Eden Place was once an abandoned, barren, and scary brownfield in the Fuller Park neighborhood on the southside of Chicago.  Just a few years ago, more than half the people living there were food-insecure, not having enough or the right kind of food to live a healthy life. The entire neighborhood was, in fact, a food desert – a place where residents found it difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.  This all changed when the community —under the leadership of one man, Michael Howard—reclaimed the site which was being used as an illegal dump and transformed it into an “urban oasis.”  

If you visit Eden Place today, you’ll find an urban farm, community gardens, and a farmer’s market. You’ll also find people taking classes to learn about composting, gardening, and even cooking. I first learned about Eden Place when it was recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama as a “success story” for urban renewal. I have since talked with some volunteers and staff who work at Eden Place. It’s clear that what they do feeds their own spirits, as well as the bodies and souls of people in the community.

I’m grateful for the many blessings in my life, including the abundance and choices of food I’ve always enjoyed. Today, I ponder on how I might share a bit of this joy with others. I want clean eating to be more than a health practice; I want it to be a spiritual practice. Clean eating, as I see it, aligns well with some other spiritual practices relating to cleanliness. Consider, for example, the idea of having a “pure heart” or “pure intentions.”  In each case, the word “clean” might be substituted for “pure.” And in each case, the idea includes a non-selfishness or a concern for others. It’s this “going beyond the self” that gives clean eating or any other spiritual practice deeper meaning to our efforts.


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