Food is one of our greatest loves, and one of our worst enemies. It gets us talking and shuts us up. Pulls us together, family. And pulls us apart, homeless and hungry. It has the ability to strengthen us or weaken us. Food is power.
My relationship with food has evolved throughout my years of travel and experiencing different cultures along the way. I began as an orthorexic health fanatic and diehard vegan, obsessing over every ingredient that went into my body.
I was preoccupied with how healthy my meals were, not how they were making me feel. I filled my plates with raw gluten-free salads and cold-pressed juices that left me feeling unsatisfied and craving more. This lifestyle ultimately left me ungrounded and with acne and an absent period for three years. And so my journey of healing and true health began when I stepped out of my boxed way of thinking about food and began living … in Greece.
I stayed in Greece for seven weeks, and during that time found my way around the city, discovering the best organic markets and health food stores. However, this was also my first exposure to the world of markets … markets filled with fresh produce, huge containers of freshly cured olives, and farm fresh eggs, still with the feathers on them. There were juice places on every corner… that’s when I began to bend my organic and cold-pressed labels.
That’s also when I started to buy what was fresh around me, embracing the Mediterranean lifestyle. Even though I didn’t experience the fresh fish from the sea … it was a step in the right direction when I started to eat fresh feta cheese from the market and in some dishes in restaurants (it was hard to avoid cheese in greek salad … as salad was my go-to).
I even had a (gasp) pastry from the local bakery. I started to become food curious and was tired of the restrictions I was placing on myself and realized that I missed having what my body was craving … and it was craving a lot!
I also worked at the center of social welfare and played and worked with kids all day, teaching them English games, painting and baking cookies. I loved seeing how they shared lunch in community together, and ate whatever the moms prepared that day doused in a healthy dose of olive oil. We usually got to take some of the leftovers home, and eating that food … you could taste the love.
I released the reins a bit on my restrictive way of eating, but still had some binging tendencies that were coming up. I slowly started to connect with my body and listen to its needs, as most meals in Greece were cooked and oh so nourishing for my screaming and starving cells.
Oh, Hawaii. A part of my heart is still at the big island, and will forever be there. Hawaii was my ultimate healing place with my relationship with food and my body image.
Hawaii was a year after Greece, and during those two months, I began to practice yoga and tune into my body and become more conscious of my eating habits. I also started to release my vegan label, and ate more healing foods for my hormones, like bone broth, fish and eggs… all foods that I was utterly terrified of but were necessary for restoring my health.
Hawaii was the ultimate confrontation as I lived in a community and did yoga all day. There was nowhere to hide binging behaviours in a shared kitchen space. The meals were mostly gluten-free and always vegan and prepared by an amazing Japanese chef from New York who put so much love and effort into preparing buffet-style meals.
Eating in community after yoga classes allowed me to slow down, gain gratitude for my plates, and enjoy each and every bite. Hawaii is where I basked in the joy of each day, each meal, and each bite.
I ate fresh fish from the sea, munched on macadamia nuts by the handful, slurped down fresh papaya from the trees, and indulged in fresh chocolate from the cacao pods freshly harvested. I also worked for my food and went out harvesting coconuts. The next time you have any kind of coconut (whether that’s water, shredded, canned or milked) be so grateful … because it is a long and hard process to machete those branches down in the beating sun!
I also hung around people that were more relaxed with their food choices, and who ate sugar… that’s right I ate SUGAR and did have the occasional GLUTEN. And when I ate those foods with a grateful and delighted heart, I didn’t feel guilt or shame … but peace … and so did my body! That’s when I knew I was finally out of my orthorexic lens and saw food from a fresh and wholesome perspective.
Also my periods had returned in Hawaii and came every month, which confirmed to me that I was on the right path of healing and showed me that my environment greatly influenced my health. Hawaii was my happy place, where I had no stress and could express myself … allowing my sacral chakra to shine and giving me the spark I needed to keep my internal period fire burning.
After graduating university one year later, I realized the lifestyle I wanted to live … and that included one eating healthy, wholesome meals that gave me life and vitality. I had stopped my binging habits and had to become a teach-what-I-preach kind of girl as the yoga thing was becoming official and I was going to Peru to become a teacher. I was ultra mindful and a complete plant-based yogi … even one that ate sustainability caught fish and eggs from time to time.
Peru was a challenging and heavy energy, one of great healing and spiritual awakening … a stark contrast to the lovey-dovey light happy energy of Hawaii. Living in Peru for three months made me look deep inside and unveiled the controlling nature of my being.
Plant medicines including a tobacco purge, rappee, chunga and huachuma opened my eyes to my intuitive and spiritual nature. I released control of my being and that allowed me to enter into deeper states of meditation, into deep reflection, and into a deeper love for myself and for nature and God all around me.
Peru is also the land of potatoes and rice. I have chosen to stay away from rice but I again was confronted with loosening the reins of my grain-free protocol for hormonal balance and go with the flow of my environment. I ate more potatoes and rice in the three months I was in Peru than I have in my whole life. I was again in awe of the culture of Peru and how they were so connected to the land not only on a physical level, but a spiritual one.
I worked and lived on a construction site for building a home and malocha. The workers gathered together and invited us to eat with them at lunchtime… it brought such warmth to my heart. They would share the pounds of potatoes they brought for lunch, and their gallons of chicha (corn beer, sometimes fruit flavoured or made with purple corn) … always with willing and welcoming smiles.
The language barrier allowed me to learn Spanish quickly but also was a way to connect deeper on an emotional level to others. What we show in our faces, our bodies and our hearts through our actions is sometimes more important than words.
Immediately following Peru, I headed to Guatemala for some community and like-minded yogis. Unlike the Peruvian culture, I found that the Guatemalan culture was much more religion based, but also had a love for music and played it all day long!
Nothing beat the fresh corn tortillas off the grill or the pan-fried plantains. Guatemalans takes life at a slow pace, and takes frequent breaks to eat together … family always came first. Late breakfasts and lunches were frequent … the town didn’t come alive until about noon.
In contrast to Peru, I was reintroduced to my love for macadamia nuts and coconuts with a more light, friendly and tropical energy. I finally had my share of health food stores and beautiful cacao to share. Unlike quinoa in Peru, amaranth was a staple there, and was my go-to when it came to eating what was available and in season.
So I’ve learned some common themes about how to eat and what to eat throughout my travels that I want to share with you in hopes for you to take some lessons and implement them into your life for your own healing and vitality.
Here are my five lessons I’ve learned from Europe and North, South and Central America:
1. No diets required … eat how you feel.
I have found the true connection to my body and learned to listen to its hunger cues as well as its cravings. I eat until I’m satisfied and eat whole foods that nourish and provide me with fuel and with life.
None of the cultures that I experienced used terms like vegan and paleo and gluten-free. They ate what was available and around them when they were hungry without batting an eye. Simple as that. They love their curves and walked up mountains for exercise (no gyms required).
2. Eating in community.
Making meals and eating them together is so much better than eating alone. Sharing and spreading the love through conversation makes us slow down and enjoy each bite and each word we hear and say. Community makes meals an event and allows for our bellies to be happy and our hearts to be full.
Community also made me accountable and aware of the amount of food that I was consuming and allowed me to have healthy portions and a healthy perspective towards what was on my plate. It also reminded me to appreciate and give thanks for the food and the Earth and the many hands that prepared it.
3. Munch on what’s seasonal and local.
Eating what was available at local markets made me ultra aware of how much better things taste as well as how much more healthy I felt when I eat foods that were at their peak. Fruits and veggies that are shipped and put in bags to your nearest grocery store sometimes aren’t the best option, especially when you’re eating berries in the winter (and are usually more expensive).
Supporting the local farmers and exploring the local fruits and veggies with a curious mind can leave you licking your fingers with a smile on you face. When farmers give you a jacote they just picked from the trees around you (Guatemalan fruit delicacy that tastes like a mini mango) you know the farm to table thing is legit.
4. Work for your food.
Working from farm to table can make you appreciate your food more and connect with your plate on a deeper level than if you picked it up off a shelf of a grocery store. Seeing its progress from seed to plate can be super satisfying and rewarding. Picking herbs from the garden and climbing up coconut trees to harvest them were ways I connected with my food on a physical level. We can appreciate Mother Nature even more when we can connect with how the elements come together to create beautiful fuel for our healthy bodies.
5. Put love into your food.
When food is cooked with good intentions and love, you can taste the difference. Those corn tortillas in Guatemala and the fried yucca and guacamole in Peru made by the mamacitas were some of the best things I’ve tasted and were so simple and grounding. I could feel the healing energy of the foods come alive when they were prepared with love and care and were respected by those who prepare them. If we respect our food … it will respect our bodies and give them the love they deserve.
So I hope I have inspired you to travel and experience other cultures but also to take what you learn about the world and integrate it into how and what you choose to eat.
Food has power … how you choose to use that power can positively influence your life and help you to shine your light in this world.
Peace & Love,
Jill – your veggie villager xx