From the Hearth




Spiritual Reflections

Pagan Witchcraft


Who Is Starweaver?

Archive of Past Issues

Site Index

Blog: Starweaver's Corner


Why a cooking column in Gems from Earth and Sky?

Preparing and enjoying food can be an act of devotion, especially for those of us whose traditions teach that the Earth and our bodies are sacred. I love to cook, I love to learn about new ingredients and methods, and I relish eating tasty, healthy meals I have prepared myself. Furthermore, I love to cook for others-it seems the most basic way to love and honor another person. Food is the very stuff of life, it is the Earth Goddess's most direct way of caring for us. To prepare and enjoy a meal is thus a ritual of connection, repeated day after day, in every land, since time before memory. So my love of cooking is more than a hobby interest; it is part of my daily spiritual practice.

This column is written to share my own approach to cooking, and of course my favorite dishes. It reflects my own preferences, and makes no attempt to speak to a wider audience. At the outset, here are some of my own choices regarding the food I eat:

I prefer vegetarian meals. I am not an animal rights activist-I do not believe it is intrinsically immoral to use animals for food. However, I am appalled at the callous disregard for animal life and welfare shown by the modern meat industry, and cringe at the wasteful self-indulgence of the modern American lifestyle which drives the industry. The insistence on meat at virtually every meal comes at a great cost to the environment, and also to our health. The healthiest diets on the planet are those based on grains, legumes, and vegetables, with perhaps some fish, seafood, or poultry and an occasional addition. Such diets are also more ecologically sustainable, requiring much less agricultural land and energy consumption. I am not a strict vegetarian - I will eat meat if someone has prepared it for me, or if it is the only appealing option on a restaurant menu, neither of which happen very often. I also have a serving of fish or seafood once every week or so. So it is not really accurate for me to label myself a vegetarian; I say instead that I prefer vegetarian meals, and many of the meals I prepare are vegan: they use no animal products at all.

I prefer low-fat meals. I find holding my fat intake below about 20% calories from fat keeps my weight down and my energy level higher. There is also a history of heart disease in my family, and this dietary preference also helps keep the cholesterol down. I avoid saturated fats like the plague, and use only very small amounts of healthy oils, like olive oil. Low-fat cooking is easy to do when cooking vegetarian, because meat is a primary source of fat in most diets. As a vegetarian, there is very little "hidden fat" in the foods I prepare. It's there in the oil or cheese (if any), and in fatty ingredients like avocados and nuts, but basically absent in the staples: grains, legumes, and vegetables. Reducing fat is not just a health issue, either. The way I see it, we are biologically programmed to seek out fatty foods because consuming them helps us build up body fat to survive periods of famine. This survival mechanism is no longer appropriate in affluent, industrialized cultures, where we can basically eat whenever we want. So although consuming fatty foods every day is something that appeals to our taste buds, it represents an unbalanced way of living, a kind of addiction that prevents us from having a centered, well-rounded relationship with our food and bodies.

I prefer meals from unprocessed ingredients. Of course, almost everything you buy is processed in some way, unless it comes from your own garden or the local farmers' market. What I mean is that my cooking emphasizes basic ingredients, such as grains, dried beans, fresh vegetables, herbs and spices, rather than packaged foods with preservatives, flavorings, and other additives. Some people dread "cooking from scratch" for fear that it is too time-consuming and inconvenient. But that simply depends on what dishes one prepares, and on sometimes doing a bit of advance planning (such as soaking beans overnight or putting them in the crock pot to cook in the morning). Working with basic ingredients makes me feel much more connected to the Earth, and to peoples living in other places and times. I don't do things like grind my own flour or press my own olive oil, but I do try to keep my ingredients relatively plain and simple. I do sometimes use processed products, like TVP and seitan, as meat stand-ins for extra protein in vegetarian dishes.

A common theme in these preferences is a backing away from what I see as out-of-control consumerism in our culture. Although I obviously do not produce most of my own food, I like to think that the food I eat is something I could produce, without massive modern technology and without qualms about animal suffering. Modern packaged food (and fast-food restaurant fare) is loaded up with fats and sweeteners and salt as a kind of seduction, luring us away from the simple pleasures of nature's own flavors. The idea is to supplant our relationship with the Earth, replacing it with a relationship with a corporation. This approach to food enriches a few persons financially, but impoverishes us all spiritually.

I'm not a purist about any of these things, which is why I describe them as preferences only. I don't let any of these preferences becomes sources of stress in my life. I don't become anxious over trace ingredients or which corporations own which brands. I like my cooking and eating experiences to express a connection with the plants and creatures of the Earth, and with peoples in different times and places who have developed wonderful cuisines, out of love for delicious flavors and healthy living.

Overgrown Zucchini with Tempeh Barbeque

Acorn Squash with Apples and Adzuki Beans

Mulled Wine

Green Risotto

Mediterranean Peppers in Olive Oil

Baked Falafel and Summery Salsa

Enchiladas and Spanish Rice

Tom's Perfect Margarita

Mushroom Ravioli in Garden Herbs

Broiled Asparagus, Tomatoes, and Onions in Balsamic Vinegar

Holiday Eggnog

Vegetarian Green Chile Stew

Copyright © 2007-2009 Tom Waters