The journey is your life.
From the tiny seed that my mother produced and my father made fertile came the embryo that gave rise to me. Although I have been told that my parents union was my beginning, I celebrate my birth on the day that I slid out of my mother’s safe warm womb and took my first breath. When I filled my lungs with oxygen I shifted my dependence from my Mother’s support system and joined her in our mutual dependence on Mother Earth. Together, we are still in a womb.
We humans, like all propagating seeds of life, require fertilization or pollination depending on the source, to claim our identity and form the being we are destined to be. Even though we are programmed with our own unique physiological design, personality and soul, we share a common home that binds us to our womb – the Earth – the life support we are dependent on for our oxygen, water and food. Much like the tree, the flower or the fruit, our life’s journey depends heavily on the Grace of God, our Creator, along with many diverse biological and communal influences.
Like a mighty team we are honored with the ultimate purpose, and that is to live and work together to steward our treasures: the body that houses our soul, and our larger body, the Earth that houses our community and provides us the air, water and soil that nourishes us and gives us life.
Our journey in the lifetime that we currently all know together is awakening us to the profound role of the Earth as we connect to her more deeply and understand that she is a living breathing system much like us. We are learning now that our actions, blind to us in the past, are causing pollution that not only threatens our body’s lives directly, but also threatens the Earth’s living systems that we depend on for life itself. As a result of this awakening we are paving a new path of industrial and agricultural production while also waking up to the fact that our thoughts can be as powerful as our actions. And, in this same paradigm awakening we seem to have an enormous appetite to touch our spiritual realm and find a greater purpose to our lives.
I personally held an intense appetite to touch my inner life more intimately, to know the inspiration that came from the light, the voices that came in the dark, and how to find meaning out of daily activities and relationships. Although I am fed daily, my appetite still rages. For this I am eternally grateful and offer my story of awakening – all through food.
A Journey From Seed to Soul
Susan Teton Campbell
Do you want to look more beautiful and have more energy and mental focus? Are you concerned about acquiring debilitating diseases or exacerbating one that already ails you? Are you overweight and hate it? Do your joints hurt? Is your digestion slower than you would like it to be? Are you exasperated at what to feed your children? Do you long to feel more connected to your world and live your life with meaningful purpose? Would you love more creativity in your life and more fulfilling sensual experiences?
Essential Cuisine: A Culinary Adventure from Seed to Soul
I’ve answered each of these questions at one time or another with a resounding, and often difficult, “yes”. But my long journey toward discovering answers that evolved from my own setbacks and suffering; from worrying about the health of my son; and from the frustrations and accomplishments that evolved around the important changes I wanted to effect in the world, finally led me to the freedom, comfort and joy revealed in a simple and deeply spiritual solution: Essential Cuisine Culinary Practice.
Notice that I am not calling Essential Cuisine a “diet”. Essential Cuisine is rather a Practice – a way of life – with nourishment, flavor, respect for the Earth, and health and vitality as the essential ingredients. Essential Cuisine is a dietary practice that is as much an inner practice as a daily action. It is a practice that awakened me to the power of food and introduced to me a wonderful new way to connect to the larger purpose behind my life. Inspired by the strongest force in the universe, love, I learned to become an impeccable steward of my own body and my future. My hope is that Essential Cuisine will do the same for you.
Healthy food can no longer be a temporary “diet” to just lose weight, or cleanse our bodies, or heal a sickness. It can no longer be the occasional meal at the health food restaurant, or meal-for-a-day when on a diet. Now, like exercising or yoga, healthful, nourishing foods must be integrated into our lives as a practice – a daily discipline that requires focus, innovation, quality, convenience and consistency – a daily discipline that is fueled by respect. Healthy meals are essential to the new way of life that is calling us home to the table.
The journey that brought me home to my own table came in an answer to a question. Before I woke up to see this magnificent world and its web of connection, I asked myself one night, “Surely, there must be more to life than this?” “Please show me,” I implored.
Essential from the Inside Out
My answer came through a journey that gave rise to the person that I am today. This journey gave rise to the principles of Essential Cuisine – a practice that profoundly connects me to my body, my soul, my consciousness, my will, my inspiration and the larger community in which I thrive. The steps I took to create this unique cuisine are as much a part of the ingredient list for Essential Cuisine as the coconut oil and flax seeds. Eliminate any one of the experiences that led me to creating Essential Cuisine: learning how food could alter or even eradicate some of my son Jason’s allergies and behavior problems; becoming a strong advocate for healthier school lunches through my work with EarthSave International; initiating my own organization, Spirit In Action, to help reshape a responsible dietary future; trekking across South Dakota’s Black Hills to spread a message of hope and healing through healthier food choices; realizing how my own food choices impacted my own health and vitality at certain times in my life, especially throughout menopause; and like leaving the pumpkin out of the pumpkin seed oil, you’d have a completely different result and flavor.
Understanding the long journey it takes to bring food to our table is what awakened me to realize that the quality of my food choices must align with the quality I aspire to create for my own life. On a physical-body level, it includes my physical vitality and energy, my emotional state, my clarity of thought, and let’s not forget vanity – how I look and present myself to the world.
On this journey many hands bring our food to the table and our ecosystems are dramatically affected by the diverse growing and production methods, so my choices also include how I want to participate with my fellow humans and other life forms on Earth, and what kind of future I am creating with the choices I make today. Acting in alignment with the health of the whole feels right. Accepting responsibility for the health of the environment and future generations brings a heightened devotion to stewardship, which is a part of my own spiritual practice.
Perhaps you find all of this to be a stretch of your imagination. If you’re at all like I used to be, some of these concepts may seem a little removed from your daily lives. But I assure you that the work you do to recognize the source and interconnectedness of our bio systems and how we must function within them, you will birth a journey toward an inspired relationship, attitude or state of being that connects you to your larger world with an open heart and respect for the opportunity to live this magnificent experience called life. It is from this state of respect and gratitude that an authentic level of stewardship for this precious gift given to you will be birthed.
The Seedling Sprouts:
”My Journey To Became a Foodie”
Dieting was my first conscious relationship with what I ate and how food affected my body’s size. God forbid, I should ever get fat. I often remarked to friends, “It’s a good thing I am vain, as it keeps me fairly healthy.” Little did I know then that food could satisfy vanity’s appetite way beyond my body weight. At age 24, I kept my weight gain at the recommended 20 pounds during my pregnancy and was back in my bikini within 6 weeks after giving birth. Even so, it took many more years for me to discover that certain foods could actually reverse the signs of aging, create glowing skin, increase joint flexibility, promote a flowing digestive system, all the while providing me with a spiritual buffet of meaning and service.
As a mom to a young boy with allergies, I found that food also played a huge role in my son’s health, holding the key to his drippy nose, itchy eyes, and his ability to focus. As a young mother, wife and working woman, I dieted again and again, and then I too became ill. I often turned to medicine for answers; however, I typically found more answers in the foods I consumed, only to throw caution to the wind and relax back into what was convenient and popular with my current lifestyle. In my late 40’s I made a radical shift to a raw ‘living’ food diet and maintained that diet for 2 years. The education that fueled this radical shift is what catapulted me into a new culinary awakening and life purpose – which was all about food. Lucky me.
The more I prepared living foods, learned the value of cultured foods, and began incorporating a broader variety of whole cooked foods into my daily regimen, the more my body changed, and my world as I knew it – especially around food – changed radically and profoundly. For the first time in my life, I felt connected – to food, to my body, and to nature and the Earth. For the first time in my life, I was satisfied after meals! Cravings were gone. Any excess weight fell off my body with virtually no effort. People commented that I looked years younger. The best part was that I was in love with my own body, life and lifestyle.
My dieting days were over. Denial gave way to pleasure. Control gave way to freedom. Vanity gave way to grace. Confusion and deprivation around “fattening” foods gave way to a sense of abundance that revolved around vital and rich foods that came directly from the Earth. Eating became a nourishing pleasure at every meal, and I began honoring my body for the sacred gift it gave me to live this life.
Growing The Human Garden
During the mid 90’s I birthed a new career in what I now fondly call ‘foodie activism’. I joined EarthSave International, founded by author, John Robbins (Diet For A New America and Healthy at 100), to head up a program to get healthier foods in our nation’s schools. My newfound purpose had manifested into a great job and I was thrilled to be a part of such a powerful and worthy project.
During my 6-year tenure with Robbins and a team of committed health and environmental professionals, I learned even more about the profound effect of our individual and collective food choices. I came to understand how our current industrial food production contributes significantly to global warming, ground water pollution, deforestation, top soil depletion, and desertification, while depositing poisonous, life-altering chemicals into our air, water and soil. This is due mostly to conventional animal and chemical agricultural practices. When I saw how our government policies, school lunch menus, and corporate marketing contributed to the rising epidemic of life-threatening diseases for our youth and their parents, I was shocked. As I looked toward our future, I saw trouble.
I saw trouble because I had been living the hell of single parenting a drug addict. My son, a sensitive soul who I nursed through childhood allergies, was driven to drug addiction through much of his adolescent and adult life. I was obsessed to find answers since conventional drug rehabilitation did little to heal his ravaged body and soul, and restore his physiology and sanity.
Surrounded by health professionals in my new job I found answers through studies and case histories that proved the pivotal role food plays in addiction and recovery of any kind. My mission to save him failed until his personal loss became great enough to fuel his own recovery. His ravaged soul healed with time, his body healed through food.
Before me time and again was evidence of the role food and nutrition played in metal, physical and emotion health and how it could dramatically impact our society as a whole. It took years, as my son matured and my knowledge grew, for me to see the connection to poor childhood nutrition and drug addiction, illiteracy, and mental and emotional problems. Now, with wisdom from the past, we can stand back with a broad vision, connect the dots and see how our lifestyle created our present state of affairs and will continue to affect our collective future if we do not make changes.
Knowing how our food choices hold one of the largest keys to personal and environmental sustainability I became even more committed to inspiring people to connect to the consequences of their food choices beyond their own taste buds, body and local grocer.
My Life Purpose: Journey Into Earth–Body Ecology
As I immersed myself in a new food culture, I found profound differences in the mental and emotional state of those who embraced a whole food diet. Those people who connected to the larger role food plays lived a lifestyle laced with intimate connections, harmonious relationships and healthy bodies. Their lives were filled with more joy, success and peace of mind than those disconnected from the source of their food. This realization surfaced so powerfully that it became the theme of my work and developed into a curriculum called Earth-Body Ecology.
The curriculum of Earth Body Ecology treats the human body as an ecosystem like the Earth, where all functions depend upon one another and work together to sustain overall health. There is little difference between the state of the air, water and soil of Earth and the condition of the breath, blood and tissue of our own bodies. Earth’s oceans and waterways contain some of the same elements as the blood flowing through our arteries and veins. About 70 percent of the Earth is salt water, as is the composition of the human body.
With my new awareness of how our Earth’s bio systems tick, and how they mirror our own body’s systems, I moved to a deeper level of stewardship and profound intimacy with food that far surpassed the vanity I once could relate to. I could see how we as a culture needed to connect to fundamental humility of our bodies and the role the environment plays in our lives.
Hard to relate to? It was for me at first. But the more I learned the more something clicked inside of me… and then I got it: what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. Likewise, what we do to ourselves we do to the Earth.
The bounty of foods, grown organically from a healthy Earth, holds the key to an agricultural practice and culinary lifestyle that will fuel us to thrive. Foods eaten from the Earth with little or no processing are what nourish us, heal us and please us the most. The Earth gives us everything we need if she has clean water, rich soil and a respectful farmer. Chemical agriculture, along with the factory and fast foods we continuously ingest are the culprits wreaking so much havoc within our health care system and causing insurmountable diseases and addictions within our bodies. That’s not all. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is responsible for depriving us of a priceless commodity, the potential held in each one of the unique seeds housed within our individual souls.
Connecting the Pieces – The Kids Got It!
With my first book, the Healthy School Lunch Action Guide, I traveled endlessly to schools across the country, educating students, parents and school administrators about the profound affect our food choices have, both physically and environmentally. Our goal was to inspire food service directors to make a plant based meal option, and for students to actually choose them! I mean really, how can we expect kids to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole foods if we don’t serve it to them?
School Food Service Directors defended their food telling us that when they made healthier options the kids would not eat them. We said, let us talk to them. Using the Earth-Body curricula that taught about food in the larger societal and agricultural context we found kids to be motivated to choose the healthier choices. They cared about the environment, and caring for it through their food choices made more sense to them than the study of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Even though we inspired the students, school economic infrastructures and corporate interventions hindered the changes needed to create change with consistency and staying power.
The demands of constant travel and lecturing were strenuous. In addition I carried around the heartbreak of a son in trouble. I drove myself hard wanting to help parents see the connection to their children’s health in their formative years through teen development. I had to keep myself fueled and I needed to keep it simple. It was also important for me to practice what I preached, so I got creative and learned to prepare the foods I loved – easily and simply. As a result, my culinary skills blossomed.
Let’s Talk Food
During those years I was a vegetarian. “But you look so healthy for a vegetarian,” people often remarked. You see, at the time many vegetarians looked either washed-out and malnourished, or washed-out and heavy, more like fat. Like other American’s, many vegetarians sought to practice a low-fat diet and dined on lots of starchy, factory-processed foods. I would answer people by saying, “It’s because of the oils.” Basically, I was referring to the ‘good fats’ I was using from carefully milled, cold-pressed organic oils rich in Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and high quality saturated fats.
Among other things, EFA’s like Omega 3’s, promote radiant skin and hair, strong nails, a sharp mind and emotional stability. I relished meals of avocados, nuts and seeds, garnished with high quality olive and flax oil, coconut and pumpkin seed oils and butters. I also dined on tons of veggies, whole grains and legumes, but I credit all those ‘healthy’ fats with creating my healthy glow, as well as making all my veggie dishes spectacular.
I was enjoying a combination of organic raw and cooked foods from the Earth while I bypassed what I call the pseudofoods from the factory – nutritionally devoid foods that are over-processed and over-valued by our society.
Of course, the next question was, ”But how do you do it?” What was a simple dish for me – steamed Swiss chard topped with ground sesame seeds, a little tamari and flax seed oil – was an inspiration to others. Gradually, what began as a survival skill for me became a gourmet gift that people came to crave.
Following my tenure with EarthSave, I began preparing recipes for celebrity retreats. People raved about the food, saying, “I’ve never eaten such fresh, rich and satisfying food”. They told me it was the first time they enjoyed eating vegetables, and it was all because of those tasty sauces and great dressings from the sensual fats and oils. They filled their plates high and told me they never felt stuffed. They commented that their digestion improved. No one gained weight; those who needed to lose weight dropped the pounds, just as I had.
“What’s in that dressing?” They demanded to know. “I could just drink it!” That’s when I realized how starved people are for nourishment – the kind of nourishment one can only get from whole, fresh foods from the Earth.
Thinking back to my school touring days, I remembered how my lectures enlightened and inspired students and parents to change their diets. Now, I was preparing food that people seemed to love. They were inspired by the information, they enjoyed the food and they seemed, on the whole, to have a genuine desire to create healthy habits. These experiences made me think that our culture’s health was on the upswing, but nutrition-related disease statistics only continued to rise.
What’s Really Going On Here?
Today, a major cause of disease and death is attributed to the Standard American Diet. Most people have heard the danger warnings behind eating certain foods and listened to health professionals recommend a whopping 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Even so, it doesn’t seem to be enough to motivate people to adopt a healthy dietary practice. Why?
What we know to be healthy food is expressed in a virtual all-you-can-eat buffet of diets that claim to be “the ONE” we need to achieve the energy, beauty and vitality we so desperately crave. This dietary smorgasbord includes: vegetarian and vegan diets, the Blood Type Diet, Raw ‘Living’ Food Diet, Macrobiotic Diet, Mediterranean Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Maker’s Diet, and an overabundance of others from doctors and nutritionists claiming theirs is ‘the ONE true way.’ While there is a lot of fluff out there by way of dietary advice, there also exist many doctors, researchers and food pioneers steering us toward more functional foods and serving us up a variety of facts, studies, recipes and foods full of integrity.
With all this information around, you would think we would be convinced and on our way to healthy food heaven. But instead, so many of us are still confused – perhaps even overwhelmed. Even though food has been my study and part of my own life purpose, I will admit to living in a state of nutritional confusion many times. As I experienced life in an aging body, my health challenges increased and I found myself experimenting with nutritional protocols to keep my bones strong, alleviate my allergies, keep me focused, and give me the energy I need to live out my robust appetite for a full life.
Health pioneers have been my teachers, my guides and my mentors as I searched for answers along the way, but my own body has been my best teacher. My dietary changes – some out of necessity and some just for fun -fueled me to finally creating a dietary practice that includes many aspects of the above-mentioned diets. When sick, my drive came out of desperation, but it was my soul who drove me most of the time with the quest of creating a practice that supported my own desires and lifestyle. The search and creation was driven from the absolute respect I have for the treasure given to me in this lifetime – my body.
The Solution: Knowledge, Wisdom, Skills & Inspiration
Healthy food for our bodies and our environment has become a necessity. There are practical reasons that go beyond our personal health. We have become more aware of our connectedness to all life on Earth, and have discovered how our agricultural practices and food production over the past 40– 50 years have destroyed and continue to destroy the quality of our air, water and soil, and simultaneously, the quality of our own cells. Our fast food lifestyle and factory-made food is robbing many of us a healthy old age and is threatening our children’s future. Most everyone knows this on some level, so why isn’t it changing faster, and what can we do about it?
There are many reasons why people are not heeding the call to eat healthier. I’ve found three:
1. Ignorance about just how powerful food is to our mental, physical and emotional health, as well as the health of our air, water and soil.
2. Lack of skills, time and money within our fast-paced, not-enough-time, too-expensive lifestyles.
3. Disconnection from nature and our Source, utilizing knowledge without wisdom and spirituality.
1. Ignorance, in all due respect, is just a lack of knowing. Even though nutritional warnings are on the news and in the media often, it seems that people don’t realize the significant role diet plays in our mental, physical and emotional health. Because we live in a medical paradigm and pharmaceuticals are continually crammed in our face through clever advertisements to remove all symptoms of disease, there is a huge in-congruency impacting us daily about how our bodies work naturally.
In my work, I find that people of all ages know what healthy food is, but don’t realize that the right dietary practice can heal almost any disease including diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and even cancer, to name a few. Conversely, the wrong foods can destroy one’s ability to focus, learn, bend, feel, digest, run, play, express and love.
Our culinary lifestyle today creates our body of tomorrow. Why do you think the celebrated Centenarians live to a vibrant 100 years old? It is because of how they lived their entire lives with an Earth-based diet, adequate exercise and an intimate connection to nature and their Source. The Surgeon General said it twenty years ago: “Eighty percent of our diseases are diet-related.” Food is far more powerful to the human body than most give it credit.
Remembering what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves, and what we do to ourselves, we do to the Earth, it could be said that 80% of our environmental diseases are also diet related. Again, I find people are really concerned about the environment but have no idea that their dietary choices contribute significantly to its condition, and that they play a huge role in reversing the situation.
My intent for bringing agricultural and nutrition awareness forward in tandem is to illustrate the vital link. We can no longer afford to be ignorant. Understanding the interconnectedness of our nutritional needs and biological similarities will hopefully bring us into the light of awareness where we can make more mindful choices.
2. A fast-paced lifestyle = no time, no skills, no money. Popping into a fast food drive-through for breakfast, lunch and dinner has become a way of living. I am still surprised at how many people I see eating at fast food restaurants. Many people don’t make their own meals simply because they don’t have the time or the skills. We really don’t even have a defined food culture, so to speak, like the French, Italians, Chinese or Hispanics. Besides cookbooks, which are focused primarily on weight loss or gourmet cuisine, there are not many practical solutions to help people develop methods or recipes to integrate a new dietary practice into a 20th century life. I learned nutrition from books, but learned to prepare food by doing. That is why I created cooking shows for people. I found it easier to learn by watching and reading along with hands on instruction. Pricey culinary schools for professional chefs exist, but there are not many real culinary schools for healthy-home chefs.
Unless someone is extremely motivated, has a terminal disease or overweight, it can be challenging to learn a whole new lifestyle around food within an already packed schedule. I found many people thirsty to know precisely what to buy, how to make it, and how to incorporate it into their lifestyles, but those same people simply lacked the time and resources to make healthy living a reality. This is understood with compassion for people doing their best.
Money is another matter. Hearing over and over again that healthy food is too expensive launched me on a mission to inform people otherwise. In truth, it is not. Some food items will cost more at point of purchase, but if you are buying whole foods instead of expensive packaged foods, you will actually save money. You will no longer be buying junk foods, which means you will save money. The principles of Essential Cuisine takes budget into consideration and advocates buying in bulk and centering meals on cost-effective foods.
The time has come to find time to learn. Learning new culinary skills is an opportunity to exercise your creative muscle. It is also a way to socialize and be with family. Particularly at a time of economic stress, pooling resources and making meals together can be an enchanting way to share, create and bond. Most people just want to be together and play, so how about learning to make healthy meals your new form of play? Call your friends or engage your family and children, and begin learning skills that will last a lifetime.
3. Connecting to nature: a deeper and more spiritual relationship. You might be asking, “What on earth does spirituality have to do with a culinary practice?” We each started in a seed of magnificent potential that is uniquely our own. Our bodies are a gift – the vehicle in which we live our life and evolve. Although much of our evolution is focused within our inner world from our experiences and intentions, our physical body has a great deal to do with becoming a beacon for our intuition, our ability to reach our unique potential, and live in alignment with our larger body, the Earth and our Source or God, whatever or whoever that is for you.
How can the faculties of our own system respond to growth, love and contribution if we are sick, mentally clouded, dull and emotionally unbalanced? How can our children meet the challenges we give them if they are sick and over-medicated? For us to live a life of purpose and contribute our unique gifts, we must have a vehicle that functions in harmony and peak performance. For this to happen, we must fuel ourselves with clean air, water and nutritious food, and not poison ourselves eating substances that are not truly ‘food’.
Finding a purpose in life has become a popular quest for many. In Rick Warren’s book, A Purpose Driven Life, he advocates serving God first as our purpose. Many people want to serve – to serve God, family, and community. People desire to make a meaningful contribution with their lives. I know I did and do still. My purpose was first manifested through my service to teaching about food and working in schools. I found value in connecting people to the larger world of their environment through the study of health and agriculture. Later in my life, an even deeper purpose arose in me out of complete devotion to my own body and being – a call I had to address so that I could continue to serve others to my full potential.
If our purpose is to serve God, then how can we deface the very thing God gave us to live this life? If we treat our bodies poorly we are abandoning our God-given potential. How can we serve God, our children, or our communities in the best way? The answer came for me by embracing an attitude of complete reverence for the gift of life and becoming an impeccable steward of my own body, our environment, and all life on Earth.
At the risk of sounding preachy or gooey, there is no better way to say it. This is my only life and my only body. I want to live the privilege given to me in the highest form and in the best way I can. I want to be vibrant enough to show up for what life brings me, and what I can bring to it. I want to be fully awake and present to God (my source), myself, my family, and my community. To achieve this I must keep my body in the best condition possible. I love taking care of her like she is my prized possession, because she is.
If you are passionately craving a spiritual connection and meaningful purpose in your life, perhaps you too could adopt this state of reverence. You’ll be giving yourself the respect you deserve, and the respect God deserves by including yourself and life within your purpose.
This attitude is the seed of my personal motivation. I have had the honor to journey through life experiences with a study around food. I found that preparing food with family and friends with intention, and stewardship, nourished me to my core. I know it will do the same for you. It is in the act of connecting to the larger life we are all experiencing that gives rise to greater intimacy and a sense of community. We become nourished together in many ways.
Like most journeys, there is no clear, definitive end to my own. I am still on a path of discovery. Laced with challenges and insights that reveal how the human garden is grown, I can see more clearly now that we reap, sow, grow and maximize our God-given potential according to the choices we live by. What is clearer to me than ever is that this single act of reconnecting to what really matters and merging our seed and our soul has to start now.
And it starts in the kitchen.
Copyright © 2014 - Teton Speaks