Until a few years ago I had been unknowingly on a journey with food. Now, I’m conscious of it. My relationship with food and eating has taken me from complicated to simple, from disease to health and from stupid faddy diets to a diet that is backed by Nature itself: the one that keeps you healthy, the one that is universal medicine, the one that shows you what to eat and when. And most of all, it shows you how to enjoy food.
My culinary interests started developing when I moved to Italy in 1991. I was so impressed by the diversity of food, the flavours and how much time people dedicated in not only preparing food but also talking about it. Every one had an opinion about “la salsa”, the tomato sauce. It was like talking about weather with British and indeed Italians do know their sauce.
One of the most important things I learnt in Italy was simplicity. La salsa is the most simple thing ever, yet so interesting! Italy gave me the appreciation of a single flavour, of just one vegetable at a time.
The food culture hasn’t been great in Finland, my home country. Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious there as well, but it is not appreciated there. Even Finnish people do not appreciate it to the extent that they would sell it with pride to non-Finnish people, although in recent years things have changed. It all started with the French president saying that the only place people eat worse than in UK is in Finland. As much as it hurt both British and Finnish sentiments, this was a badly needed statement, which made a huge impact. If you go to Finland now, you can find truly amazing cooking, kitchens full of local produce and the pride that comes out of making something truly Finnish. The ingredients are clean, organic, abundant and used seasonally at their best.
This is the culture I come from. My mother is a keen forager of forests and a gardener and my father is an obsessed fisherman and now he’s also taken up hunting (which I’m not so keen on but at least it is seasonal, local and organic). Eating fresh picked food, preserving and cooking what we found from nature has always been my kitchen experience. When we were teens and started being allowed to cook our own foods and got interested in new flavours, we’d go to the forests, pick up chanterelles and prepare creamy tagliatelle with them. Super easy and better than any pizza or Chinese that was on the take away menu.
We lived in a culinary heaven but we just didn’t think it was anything special. New potatoes from the garden with dill and fresh butter with herring pulled out of the lake the same day. Porcini mushrooms, when the rain fall was right were so abundant that my mum cried (and still does) because no one was there to pick them up after her storage space run out.
What my parents taught me about food and what my five year stint in Italy gave me was a genuine appreciation of food, of local resources and that the food should be fresh, organic and non processed. The Italian experience also taught me how important it is to sit down together, not only to eat but to socialise and to share.
Another adventure in the realm of food and eating came from when I started being interested in Ayurveda. It completely blew my mind. I suddenly learned mindfulness, that I should not eat anything anytime and that there were precise rules of food combination and most importantly that food was my medicine. I learned how important it was to eat in the right way and that how I eat is often more important that what I eat. I used to think that if I just ate low fat yoghurt and Allbran, drank litres and litres of water I would get thin, healthy and fit (the first one being the most important back then). With ayurveda I learnt that food with no flavour is unhealthy and that we shouldn’t eat just for the sake of it. We should, instead, make sure that our meals please our senses, and that we stop and eat in peace, without interference by media, books, computers or intense conversation.
Ayurveda taught me that it is ok to waver sometimes without guilt. It taught me that hard core diet regimens can be terribly harmful and that deprivation diets do not make me more fashionable. It told me that five-fold sensory experience from food is necessary before one can achieve satisfaction. It taught me that there is a grey area of fulfilment where abundance and scarcity can be equally beneficial. There is no right or wrong, everything depends on the situation at hand.
Ayurveda is the art of situational awareness related to food and lifestyle where the focus is ultimately on human evolution. It is a spiritual journey and this sort of evolution is the one which guides us towards higher states of consciousness.
My journey of awareness continues. It hasn’t made me a master chef but it has made me love food and think of food in a completely different way. Sourcing organic and ethical produce, cooking without wasting, with respect of the ingredients, cooking mainly from fresh ingredients, cooking slowly and eating slowly, avoiding processed food or in other words avoiding food-like substances (e.g. factory farmed meat and milk) and just dedicating time for cooking are factors that have grown into almost non-negotiable fundamentals. It is because correct eating doesn’t only please taste buds but has much wider implications on the environment and personal development. The kind of diet we eat is a direct reflection of our spiritual development. Ayurveda teaches you awareness: the more you grow in awareness the more choice you have, and that choice then is always a reflection of a better health and a better world.