Clean Food: How to Keep a Beginner’s Mind in The Kitchen.
In the kitchen, I practice daily with the concept of clean food.
Clean food is semantically and emotionally decontaminated from memories and attributes from the past. And this approach to food is what ultimately has led me not only to making peace with it, but also to discovering in the kitchen a cradle of creativity, culture, and pleasure.
Most of my childhood memories are connected to food. In fact, some of the most important formative moments in my life, for better or for worse, took place at the dining table. It is there that I first witnessed joy, pleasure and laughter, but also rage, shame and discomfort.
The other night I made pasta with eggplant and goat cheese. I use goat cheese quite often in my dishes, and the first thing I am always reminded of, when spreading it on a bruschetta, adding it to salads, frittatas or pastas, is something that I learned from my mother, that goat cheese is low in cholesterol.
I never had a problem with cholesterol; never has a doctor suggested I keep its levels under control.
So I wondered: “Why is the low level of cholesterol in goat cheese, and the fact that my mother always pointed it out, the first thing that comes to mind when I am about to enjoy its creaminess and intense flavor?”
Numerous are the characteristics that I could easily attribute to goat cheese: earthy, for example, or sweet, nutty, and tangy. ‘Low-cholesterol’ is not a smell, a color, or a taste.
Moreover: “How did I know that goat cheese really was a low-cholesterol food? I had never researched the truth of such a statement.”
As an infant, I was difficult with food; I didn’t want to eat and I was forced to. Then, growing up, I became a child who liked to eat, a little too much perhaps, until I stopped altogether. Since very early in my childhood, several family members referred to my metabolism as slow. I seemed to enjoy food, but I also gained quite some weight past the age of 4 or 5; my brother, on the other hand, never gained a pound. I was chubby and suffered from asthma, he was slender and athletic.
“Alice is like the Carbones,” echoes in my head almost like a curse, or something to be ashamed of. “She gains weight, while Andrea can eat as much as he wants, and burns calories right away.”
For years I kept the ‘information’ about metabolism tight to my heart, and very close to the notion of low-cholesterol. In my head, I was doomed to be overweight, unless I starved myself and worked out obsessively.
“Was there a doctor in your family?” My therapists asked, just a few months ago, when I told them about my metabolism.
“No,” I said.
And everything suddenly became clear.
Goat cheese, it turns out, truly is a cheese low in fat and cholesterol. But my metabolism nonetheless isn’t at all slow. It works quite well, actually, and I don’t have a weight problem. I don’t starve myself any more, and I healthily work out.
It took me 25 years to decontaminate food and the act of eating it from the attribute, slow metabolism, that is, that several family members and acquaintances had mistakenly attached to it. Similarly, it took me very long to decontaminate goat cheese from its not so important cholesterol level, and to enjoy it because of its taste and interesting pairing with other ingredients.
Semantically and emotionally cleaning the food I cook not only helped me heal from my eating disorder and from my co-dependence with old, unhealthy ideas that were instilled in me, it also allowed me to re-discover its many layers with a beginner’s mind.
So I made pasta with roasted eggplant, mint, and goat cheese. It was absolutely divine, and with parents and husband we enjoyed every bite of it.
Compliments from my mother, a great cook herself, were just the cherry on top.
You can find my recipe for Pasta with Roasted Eggplant, Mint, and Goat Cheese on the RECIPE page.