When I was 14 my mom went back to work. Since she was working in a department store, and sometimes working evenings I began to cook meals sometimes. My mom did not love to share her kitchen, so I had not done much cooking before that ( Though I think it is better to teach kids cooking early, I can understand that; she had five kids, and not a large amount of money so she worked extremely hard and kids can make a lot of mess in the kitchen. ) The other thing that happened is that I went to a high school on the other side of town, and the bus ride was significantly longer. It could be as much as an hour and a half with a transfer and wait for a second bus downtown, and a walk after that. So sometimes I would go to the downtown library when I got there and wait for a ride with my dad when he finished working. In addition to studying and doing homework there I began to read cookbooks, (as well as other do it yourself books), and started to try to cook occasional meals of food from other cultures. This was the seventies, so fI wasn't lucking onto books on, or ingredients for things so common today as Vietnamese spring rolls, or Ethiopian injira, but I tried my hand at Irish, and German, and French food. I also used to stop for an orange, or honey candy from a tiny whole foods shop on the corner near my mom's store (also downtown) and get their free magazine. It was my first foray into the idea of food's connection to health. I can remember big containers of brewer's yeast, and carob candy. I tried some recipes from the magazine also, though I had less success with them. I suspect some of my siblings may still remember the fiasco of the ground peanut burgers.
But though French food from a novice fourteen year old is probably about what one would expect, some things were more successful. I baked bread for the first time that year. We had no bread machine, or cuisinart, so I beat and kneaded by hand. I did not have bread pans, so I baked round blobs on cookie sheets. The first time I ended up with about eight loaves. They were wonderful. Crisp on the outside, warm and with a slight yeast scent, and a bit of chew.
Here is a revelation. Baking bread by hand provides something so beautiful and rich to the senses. It does not need artificial enhancement , or colorful packaging, or expensive advertising to make us want to eat it. And in the process of kneading I found my first experience of meditation. You push, and roll, and dust with flour, and the mind flows with the roll of the dough. To smell the air as you enter the house, to bite into the newly baked loaf that has been made with love for you by someone you know.... this is to open the heart.
I also think making foods from scratch, even if you only try it once or twice, is really important. When you go to the grocery today so much is pre made and processed. We look at the box and see the outer, surface layer. We open the box and see it as an object already whole, but we do not see (and the companies who make premade food often do not want us to lift the veil and see) under that surface. It is like seeing ourselves by looking in a mirror. In my yoga practice I try to encourage people to see themselves beyond the skin..... to feel the movement of muscle and joint, to understand the action of the organs, to find the connections between brain and body, to understand the cognitive, intellectual, and emotive part of themselves, and to see how those things move together. Through understanding we can find change, we can not just drift but steer our selves. Baking bread gives you the power of understanding.... when you reach for a loaf and turn it over and read the ingredients you can know what is in the original thing, and what is being added to be able to give you a surface illusion of that thing.
It is not just bread either. I tried my hand at pickles, and bagles, and English muffins, and fruit cake, and jam, and even cheese. I grew my own mint and made mint jelly from it. Growing something and making something from it is really wonderful. I never made it as far as growing wheat, but we did go to a local mill once and buy stone ground corn meal. (Actually my interest in understanding from scratch how things are made, and tracing those roots for myself go beyond food. I have made candles, and took a course on book making. To this day I have a beautiful little book I made: I sewed the binding, glued the end pages, built and fit the cover, and stamped the outside with gold letters saying “Fait a la Main”. Every time I open a book I feel more connected to it because I have made one. It is kind of like how a doctor learns the human form more deeply through dissection.)
So if you are a practitioner of yoga, looking for self understanding, or health, or strength, or peace of mind, remember that in its original form yoga does not begin and end with movements done on the yoga mat. It is about the whole person, and the whole of our interactions with our world and the others in it. If you are a person who loves to run, or lift, or do other exercises, remember that the health and strength you seek is a factor of not just your physical movement, but of what you choose to eat, and more broadly of all the life choices you make. It is important to look past the surface, to turn over the package in the store and read the label, to learn what each ingredient you are putting in your mouth actually is. It is important to try to make what you eat actually healthful. But we must all be willing to learn and look, before we can understand and see. To make that food by hand is to learn that lesson deeply. To eat that food you have made by hand is to take that lesson home, and to nourish your body truly. To share that food with those you love is to share that lesson, and nourish your heart as well as your body.