I wrote up this story for an amazing company that I’ve been working with called Loving Earth. They’ve been trading me some of the most amazing, organic, fairly traded foods in exchange for stories from adventures.
When heat exhaustion nearly took us out in India, their chocolate was a life saver —reviving us with healthy raw cacao and agave. Mmmm…..
Eat With Your Hands
Apparently, all non-Africans can trace their ancestry back to the Indian subcontinent. With 40,000 years or so with which to evolve, one can imagine the twists and turns and developments that occur in that vast a time frame. I traveled to India with many preconceptions. About religion, food, and environment. Some ideas played out in the places that I experienced and many did not. The overarching impression though, was the incredible diversity of Indian culture.
Of all of the overwhelming sensory experiences that India brought, I was most affected by something so obvious, so essentially Indian that it seems silly. I was struck by eating with my hands. And by “hands,” I mean only my right hand, as it is considered rude and/or gross to eat with the left hand, which is reserved for toilet matters.
I was asked to join a team of surfing women in India as part of a documentary film project, calledBeyond the Surface, which explores the usage of surfing as a tool for social development, community building, and sustainability. Over the course of the month, 9 of us traveled by planes, trains and automobiles through the south of India and Sri Lanka to find surf, work with NGOs, surf clubs and share stories.
Filming for Beyond The Surface
We ventured away from the Keralan coast for a spell, and stayed at an ashram in the foothills of the Western Ghat mountains. Life there was rigorously scheduled and routine was enforced in order to create space for the mind to quiet and soften. During each of the two meals a day, we would file into the eating hall to sit upon woven palm mats, plates resting on the stone floor. A large sign overhead insisted: EAT IN SILENCE! USE YOUR ENERGY FOR DIGESTION!
Along with the lack of human voices, there was another familiar mealtime sound amiss:
the clinking and clanking of metal utensils.
I tried my best to mimic the lesson I’d been given about using only the tips of my pointer and middle fingers to usher food toward my mouth and thumb to pop it in. In doing so, I felt the heat of veggie curry and the gentle give of rice grains as I scooped them up together. The sopping spices enveloped my fingers and welcomed them to the eating experience, where they are too rarely invited to bask in the juicy joys of eating.
A home cooked feast
In the West we tend to miss out on a central sensory element of eating: touch! We set out stabbing our food with forks and knives, while so much of the world passionately embraces it with designated fingertips— some of the most sensitive parts of the body.
In an earlier Loving Earth blog post about the sacredness of food, Cormac wrote about how we’ve lost our connection to what we eat. Like all great changes, there are micro and macro, personal and political levels of reestablishing this connection. One of the most rudimentary ways to start reconnecting is by touching our food—when we craft it and in the process of consuming it.
There is an intimacy about not having a metallic interference to buffer the connection to our food. Texture becomes both an oral and tactile experience. Plus, there’s the added benefit of never being in danger of biting a tine or sending peas spilling all over the place when you warble in your fork delivery.
The Indian heat kept our LuvJus melted, but we didn’t mind!
I can see how Scott Fry, who conceptualized Loving Earth on a trip to India, was so inspired to work with food there. With so many humans inhabiting the subcontinent, food is hardly ever more than a glance away. Food stalls send wafts of spicy and sweet soaring and even through the countryside you’ll find the obligatory fruit stands of coconut, banana and papaya.
Food carries our stories forward. It brings the past into our present. It can connect us to where our ancestors came from, or to where we dream of going. Food bonds us and sustains us. When we connect more fully to our food, we connect more completely to what it means to be alive and part of human culture.
For more info about Lauren’s film project, check out BeyondtheSurfaceFilm.com
A familiar sight
Originally posted HERE